For some Northwest Arkansas families, being able to put enough food on the table is a struggle.
Food insecurity is a growing issue in the state, data shows. According to a recent report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 16.6% of Arkansas households were food insecure, the highest nationwide. Nationally, 11.2% of households were food insecure.
An organization that's been fighting to eliminate food insecurity in Northwest Arkansas for 34 years is the Northwest Arkansas Food Bank. Kent Eikenberry, food bank president and CEO, described food insecurity as "not knowing or having the resources to put food on the table."
Food insecurity is very different from hunger, Eikenberry said. Hunger can be felt by everyone and be satisfied quickly, but food insecurity can be a constant reality for some.
Northwest Arkansas Food Bank officials said the organization has experienced higher demand for its services due to inflation and the expiration of covid-19 benefits. Eikenberry said the cost has gone up for most things, but wages have not.
More families in the state need assistance from food banks, Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance CEO Kathy Webb said, causing the demand for food in the food banks to increase.
The price of food has risen for food banks because of inflation as well, Webb said. Cost and demand have both risen, causing supply to be more difficult to maintain.
The Northwest Arkansas Food Bank was previously receiving subsidies for certain foods through pandemic relief money, but officials said the organization is having to account for the loss of that aid and inflated prices.
Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette readers can help the food bank meet the higher demand by donating through a long-standing holiday tradition, the Community Christmas Card. This year, the Food Bank will be allocating proceeds to its School Pantry program.
"We're excited to be able again to act as a conduit for our readers to help the food insecure in our communities by donating to the Northwest Arkansas Food Bank," said Lisa Thompson, executive editor of the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. "The Food Bank does a great job through their partner organizations getting food to those in need."
Readers raised $80,000 for the Food Bank over the past four years through this endeavor, according to Sabrina Thiede, Food Bank director of programs.
"The Community Christmas Card is a great example of the neighbor-helping-neighbor legacy of the region, and we at NWA Media are grateful we can be a part," Thompson said.
Thiede said food insecurity doesn't have a specific look.
"It can look like a family who just got a flat tire and had to put new tires on their car, so they can't put groceries on the table," she said. A food-insecure family might have to choose between keeping the lights on or buying groceries. Everyone knows someone who is food insecure, whether they realize it or not, Thiede added.
Thiede oversees the Food Bank's School Pantry program, which started in 2019 as a way to make food available for "not only the child, but the whole family," she said. The Food Bank gives schools the groceries at no cost, and schools distribute the food to families.
School pantries are a way for the Food Bank to reach families "where they are already being served," Thiede said. She went on to say the integration of pantries at schools was successful because of an established foundation of trust between families and schools.
Pantries in the Springdale School District do "incredible work," said Trent Jones, district director of communications.
The Food Bank has been able to reach more minority groups because of the School Pantry program, Food Bank officials said.
Another Food Bank program that serves the community is "Feed Rogers" -- a food pantry set up like a grocery store. Families may pick out groceries at the pantry at no cost.
Thiede said on opening day of Feed Rogers, a mother and son were standing in the cereal aisle. Thiede heard the mother tell the son he could pick any cereal he wanted. The boy replied, "Are you serious? This never happens. This is the best day ever!"
Thiede is often able to witness Food Bank clients receive food. She said you can see people that look hopeless and when they realize their needs will be met, you see "hopeless go to hope."