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Feeding The Pack
By Audrey Hanes, Photography by Kayla Broadway

In 2013, the Food Bank of Northeast Arkansas approached Arkansas State University about starting a college food pantry. Seven years later, the A-State Food Pantry is dedicated to serving students, staff and faculty who are associated with the university and face food insecurity.

“The Food Bank of Northeast Arkansas works with 140 partner agencies and programs located throughout 12 counties in Northeast Arkansas,” said Food Bank of NEA Chief Executive Officer Christie Jordan. “The food bank serves as a warehouse and distribution hub for food pantries throughout Northeast Arkansas, supplying our partner programs with food, training and equipment grants. The A-State Food Pantry is one of our partner food pantries.

“The A-State Food Pantry is unique in our food pantry network in Northeast Arkansas. It was established as a college food pantry and focuses on serving both students and employees that are part of Arkansas State University. The pantry utilizes a client choice model, meaning they allow the people receiving food assistance to … select items that they need.”

The only requirement to be served is a valid A-State ID; there are no income guidelines or additional questions to determine eligibility. During the summer months, the pantry served 105 households with 160 people. When classes were in session during April, the pantry served 67 households for a total of 124 people.

“Being an agency of the food bank has proven so valuable in many ways, but especially in the resources they offer,” said Katey Provence, the associate director of the Leadership Center at A-State. “Their staff is always ready to lend a hand, whether that be sharing best practices of operation or acquiring equipment to better serve clients. Being able to order food from the food bank (of NEA) at little or no cost has a huge impact on the number of people we’re able to serve, and their staff even helped us obtain a donated freezer to expand what types of food we’re able to offer.”

Jordan says that food insecurity has been an ongoing problem since before the inception of the Food Bank of NEA in 1983, and that problem is even more apparent in the middle of the current pandemic and after the recent Jonesboro tornado. The nonprofit organization has had to adapt and make changes due to COVID-19, such as switching the backpack program to a family food box program.

“Arkansas consistently ranks in the top five states with the highest rates of food insecurity in the nation,” said Jordan. “Recent studies show that food insecurity affects an alarming number of college students each year – traditional students, non-traditional students and international students. While many people think that having the experience of a struggling college student is a rite of passage, experiencing food insecurity in college impacts the success of students in their journey to earn a degree.”

Student volunteers are doing their best to help tackle the issue. Provence advises the Student Government Association and Volunteer A-State, the two student groups that help support the A-State Food Pantry.

“The Student Government Association (SGA) created the pantry through a resolution passed in February 2015 that provides annual funding,” said Provence. “Volunteer A-State is a student leadership board focused on service/philanthropy, and they handle the daily operations of the pantry, (such as) coordinating volunteers, setting up food drives, etc.”

While the pantry and its volunteers try to get involved with the Jonesboro community whenever possible, the main goal of the A-State Food Pantry is to help those associated with the university.

“It often surprises people to find out our pantry only serves A-State students, faculty and staff,” said Provence. “However, I think the pantry is still a reflection of how much A-State cares for the Jonesboro community. The pantry serves our campus in hopes that those students, faculty and staff are able to be productive and contributing citizens in our community. We believe that if they receive the assistance they need to be successful in the classroom or on the job, they’ll then give back to others when and where they can.

“We also do our best to partner with other local pantries and the Food Bank of NEA any time we can. The pantry was able to host two distributions as part of the USDA’s Coronavirus Food Assistance Program this summer, and A-State has countless student groups that go out into area agencies to volunteer each year. So, although our efforts are often focused on our campus community, we hope Jonesboro knows how thankful A-State is for all it does for our Red Wolves.”

Aside from SGA’s funding, the A-State Food Pantry is supported solely by donations. Donations of food items and/or toiletries can be dropped off at the pantry during hours of operation, or at the Leadership Center during normal business hours. Monetary donations can be made to the A-State Foundation via check to P.O. Box 1990, State University, AR 72467 or online at astate.edu/a/advancement/give-now/#state.

“We have not finalized our plans for upcoming events and drives, but I expect we will host several of our signature events this fall,” said Provence. “We typically host a coat and winter clothing drive to replenish inventory in our campus coat closet, which is also housed in the food pantry. I’m certain we’ll continue our tradition of providing holiday food bags in November and December, as well.

“… When students are paying to attend courses, it can seem like they shouldn’t need help paying for food, but I can say without a doubt, the food pantry has opened my eyes to a need I never knew existed. The work being done by our A-State students for their peers is really outstanding. I’m blessed by the opportunity to work with these students and see the impact they are making firsthand, and I’m grateful to work at an institution that sees the value in providing these opportunities for our students to serve.”

To stay up-to-date on the happenings of the A-State Food Pantry, follow @VolunteerAState on Facebook and Instagram. For more information on the Food Bank of Northeast Arkansas, visit foodbankofnea.org or find the Food Bank of Northeast Arkansas on Facebook @FoodBankofNEA, Twitter @foodbankofnea and Instagram @foodbankofnea.