Prior to joining Samaritan Community Center (SCC), Debbie Rambo heard a story from a teacher-friend about a kindergarten student who went to school one Monday morning, smelled the food cooking in the cafeteria and collapsed. As the teacher and school nurse talked to him, they learned that the last time he had eaten was the previous Friday, when he ate his school lunch.
Dumbfounded that this could actually be going on in communities across our country, Debbie resolved that someday, somehow she was going to do something about that problem if it did indeed exist in our community. So when she joined the staff of SCC as its executive director in 2002 she began researching ways to help hungry Northwest Arkansas families. She found a snackpacks program in a nearby community that gave food to school children on Fridays to take home to insure they had something to eat on weekends and began the process of modeling Samaritan’s SnackPacks for Kids (SFK) program.
Debbie called a couple of friends who were school counselors, received permission to provide snackpacks to their schools, and in January 2005 SFK began weekly deliveries to three local elementary schools: Bonnie Grimes and Grace Hill in Rogers and Mary Mae Jones in Bentonville.
SFK grew at a steady pace between 2005-2014, and although the growing program often presented logistical and financial challenges to SCC, we were always ready and able to help any elementary school that wanted to join the program.
The sudden dramatic expansion of our SFK program happened when the Arkansas Rice Depot pulled its distribution of weekend food packets out of Northwest Arkansas at the end of 2014, leaving many Northwest Arkansas students without any weekend food assistance. SCC felt we could not ignore the hunger needs of the many students in upper grades who were suddenly left wondering if they would have enough food to eat during the
weekend and other school holidays. So we picked up as many schools as possible to ensure all school children had a weekend resource for food.
Over the last two years, in order to accommodate the needs of both younger and older youth, snackpack contents have been expanded to include fruit cups, pudding cups, macaroni and cheese cups or packets, cereal packets and cheese crackers.
Prior to January 2015 SCC distributed approximately 6200 snackpacks per week to 95 area schools and sites. With the new additions and some “tweaking” of the program, SnackPacks was able to add many schools in 2016, yet keep the average weekly distribution to between 6500-7000 children in 149 sites.
Today, it costs approximately $60,000 each month to sustain the SFK program. You can help us continue to ensure hungry children in NWA do not suffer food insecurity on weekends by CLICKING HERE, or by hosting a SFK food drive at your business, organization or school. For more information on how to host a food drive for our SnackPacks for Kids program, email Shannon Green, or call her at 479.636.4198, ext. 236.
CLICK HERE TO SEE AN INTERACTIVE MAP of all NWA SnackPacks for Kids locations.
What is a Snackpack? A Samaritan Community Center snackpack is a small white plastic shopping bag filled with 8 healthy snacks. Snackpacks usually contain (items may vary, depending on donations) pudding cups, cheese crackers, peanut-free granola bars, macaroni and cheese cups or packets, fruit chews, fruit cups, and cereal cups. Because of the number of school children with peanut allergies, SnackPacks for Kids is a peanut free program.
Who is eligible to participate? SnackPacks for Kids is open to schools, from Head Starts to High Schools, in Benton, Washington, Madison and Carroll counties in Arkansas. We were fortunate in 2016 to raise enough funds to accommodate all schools requesting SnackPacks, and erasing our waiting list.
How are SnackPacks distributed? Between 7000-7500 children in 149 NWA schools and head start centers receive a snackpack every Friday during the calendar school year. During the summer, approximately 2000-3000 snackpacks are distributed through summer school lunch programs, church lunch programs, our cafes and other public venues.
Who determines which children receive a snackpack? SCC relies on the school counselors to determine which children are the most at-risk for hunger or food insecurity on the weekends. When schools enroll in the Snackpacks for Kids program, they are allotted a specific number of snackpacks based on 20% of their student free/reduced lunch population. We do this to ensure that as many schools as possible receive some snackpacks for kids in need. At present we have 15 schools and 1200 children on a waiting list to join the program.
Are there really that many hungry children in the four-county area? Unfortunately, yes. In fact, in Arkansas 21% of households report food insecurity, meaning that at some point during the year they experienced difficulty providing enough food due to a lack of money or resources. (Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Household Food Security in the United States in 2013). And according to the Arkansas Department of Education, Child Nutrition Unit, over 42,000 students in our four county service area are on free and reduced lunch, meaning their families’ household income was below 185% of the Federal poverty threshold as defined by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget. The 2016 federal poverty threshold for a family of four is an annual income of $24,300.
Are the snackpack items donated? While SCC is thankful for the many food drives that support SnackPacks for Kids, due to the many dietary constraints the center continues to purchase the majority of our snack items at a cost of over $60,000 each month. Our organization does not receive any state or federal funding for this. SnackPacks for Kids is funded by grants, food drives and through generous donations from individuals, businesses, corporations and area churches.
Donations we are currently accepting for this program are individual fruit cups, pudding cups, hot cereal packets, granola bars (peanut free, please) and macaroni and cheese.
All food donations may be dropped off at the SCC Administrative Offices, 1211 West Hudson Road, Rogers, M-TH 8:30 am-4:30 pm and FR 8:30 am-Noon.
If you are interested in scheduling a packing session for your group, or members of your family for the Tuesday afternoon or evening sessions, or more information on the program, contact SnackPacks for Kids Program Coordinator Joe Raleigh 479.636.4198, ext. 248.