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Pantries expect more families in 2023

by Rachel Dickerson | January 26, 2023 at 7:17 a.m.
McDonald County Press/Rachel Dickerson Debbie Ray (left) and Warren Henderson bag up tomatoes for those who were to receive food at Oasis Food Pantry on Jan. 18. Behind them (center, left) and in front of them (bottom, right) are stacks of bags of fresh vegetables and fruits. Ray has been volunteering with the food pantry for two and a half years, while Henderson has been a volunteer there for four years.

BELLA VISTA, Ark. -- Local food pantries are reporting a successful 2022 and are expecting to serve more families in 2023.

Max Ellis, director of Oasis Food Pantry at Village Bible Church on Forest Hills Blvd., said the organization served 2,235 families last year.

"The Lord blessed us in many ways with a lot of community help financially in order to make that operation possible," he said. "We'd like to thank all the people who have contributed to feeding the less fortunate and hungry in northwest Arkansas and southwest Missouri."

He said that, in view of the increased cost of purchasing food, he anticipates more families in need of assistance to come to the food pantry this year. He said the organization has sufficient volunteers at this time.

The food pantry is open Wednesday from 10 a.m. to noon and provides dry goods, fresh produce and frozen meat, he said.

Volunteers at the church said it is a drive-through style pickup, however, they offer prayer to each client, and if someone needs additional prayer, they can pull out of line, and volunteers will come to pray further with them.

John Peshek is the director of Shepherd's Food Pantry at Bella Vista Lutheran Church on Forest Hills Boulevard. He said the group served 1,600 families last year and had a lot of new applicants.

"We have our regulars, a lot of elderly. They only have $700, $800 per month Social Security," he said.

At Thanksgiving, the pantry gave recipients a turkey breast and fixings for a Thanksgiving meal, and at Christmas, there was a ham and items for a Christmas meal, all in addition to what they would normally receive, he said.

Clients come from Bella Vista, Pea Ridge, Gravette and McDonald County, Peshek said. This is the pantry's 13th year of operation, and it has a dedicated volunteer base, some of which are not church members but just want to help out, he said.

"Oasis still does a drive-through, but we have them come in," he said. "This is a mission of our church. We want to spread the gospel to folks. We sit down and talk to them about what they're going through and have prayer with them. We like the fact that we have them come in to spread the gospel. That's our main goal, really."

With inflation in food prices and the increase of clients month by month, he said, he expects the food pantry will easily serve 2,000 families in 2023.

"With the support we get from the different groups in Bella Vista, like different churches and Arvest and Harps, we're staying very flush," he said. "We provide meat products, eggs. We don't provide vegetables because they don't have a very good shelf life. They get things they can make a meal with ... plus laundry detergent we make on-site, diapers, a couple of rolls of toilet paper, and a bar of soap. They get enough food to last for 10 days or so. We tell them about Oasis and other food pantries in the area because we want to make sure they've got enough groceries for the month."

The pantry is open from 10 a.m. to noon on Fridays.

He concluded, "It's just a blessing to be able to help folks out."

Mike Martin, director of the food pantry at Bella Vista Church of Christ on NW McNelly Road, said the church's pantry served 190 families last year.

Does he expect an increase this year?

"We're anticipating that and gearing up for that possibility. We expect more people to need help. Just supporting the pantry is an increased challenge with the price of groceries."

The pantry operates from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Thursdays and has good support from the church's congregation in terms of volunteers and supplies, he said. Clients are greeted at the door, and those who have been there before are welcomed with a knowledge of their food likes and dislikes, he said.

Martin said the pantry gives clients a lot of canned goods due to their long shelf life, as well as keeping in mind children who need something to eat while waiting for parents to come home. For such children, Pop-Tarts, granola bars, peanut butter and jelly, graham crackers, etc., are provided. Recipients also get foods they can use to make meals, such as rice and macaroni and cheese.

He said that he knows there are other food pantries in the area, and if each one can make an impact, they can really make a difference.

"We're really excited that we have the opportunity to help the community. It's tough, especially during the winter. We do what we can to help them out," he said.

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