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Organizations get creative in battling Arkansas’s food insecurity

Engage Arkansas and other groups are turning old newspaper dispensers into mini food pantries to help make a difference for hungry Arkansans.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Martin Luther King Day is on Jan. 16 and several organizations across Arkansas are gearing up for the National Day of Service. 

Starting Monday, organizations, including Engage Arkansas, are asking people to leave non-perishable food items in any old newspaper dispensers to help fight hunger across the state.

Engage Arkansas Director Shana Chaplain said this is an opportunity to make a difference in more than 60 communities statewide.

"I think in a day in time, where there can be a lot of divisiveness, something as simple as a US newspaper dispenser box, being upcycled into a free pantry where community members can come together, address a food issue meet the needs of some of their neighbors," Chaplain said. "It can be done in an anonymous way."

According to Engage Arkansas Civic Engagement Manager Star Crow, Arkansas ranks fifth in the nation with insecure food insecurity rates. She said converting 100 old newspaper dispensers into mini food pantries should make a big difference for hungry Arkansans. 

"We've had calls from Little Rock School District, from the Families in Transition Program. They said they get calls in the middle of the night from people who need food," Crow said. "That's exactly who we're trying to reach. We want these available outdoors for people to grab food when they're in need."

More than 60 communities, including rural areas, will participate in the project.

"We went to tiny communities of like 200 people, we've got about 25 of them going into Pulaski County," Crow said. "Yes, they're all over the state."

Stocking the pantry isn't a one-time thing. 

"The agreement with our partners is to find someone that would adopt the pantry for long-term stability and food access," Crow said.

The North Little Rock Community Garden is also participating as the project fits right into the organization's mission.

"We do have a handful of SNAP-qualifying communities in our city," North Little Rock Community Garden Coordinator Sawyer said. "We believe that everyone should not only have access to food, but access to the knowledge on how to support themselves."

There's still a lot of work to do when it comes to freshening up the old newspaper dispensers, but Sawyer said it's been a rewarding process.

"It takes a village to be able to do projects and offer services like we do," Sawyer said. "We're just really, really grateful to be in this city."

If you want to help out with the little food pantries or you want to find one in your area, a map of all of them can be found HERE.

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