|There's a lot going on at the Arkansas Rice Depot.|
We met with several of the good folks that run the place and learned about the many missions the Rice Depot operates. I think a lot of misconceptions were blown away.
First things first. The Arkansas Rice Depot isn’t just about rice. It’s about helping feed the hungry all across Arkansas through various programs like Food for Kids, Food for Seniors and Food for Families. There’s a Rice Depot program in every county in Arkansas. The whole operation employees just 20 people… and with low overhead the organization is able to turn 99 ½ percent of donations and funds right back around to serving hungry Arkansawyers.
We had a quick lunch with the Rice Depot folks before our tour of the operation. We watched a film and then talked about the mission’s purpose and how it helps. 400,000 people receive food through the different programs the Rice Depot offers. That’s nearly 14 percent of the state’s population.
These kids don’t have to apply for the backpack program. Their teachers or counselors will make a recommendation to the person coordinating for the program at the school, and that person might take them aside and let them know it’s available to them. They go by in the afternoon as they’re leaving school and pick up a backpack. Depending on the situation, the backpack might contain enough food for an evening or for a weekend — and in some situations, for multiple children in the household. They’re all unmarked backpacks (the clear ones in this photo are just there to demonstrate what goes inside). The items inside are for the most part single servings that can be opened by a child — and in most cases, don’t require heating. We’re talking fruit and pudding cups, vegetable cups and cans, cereal and granola bars, macaroni and cheese that only requires water, canned items with pop-tops that come fully cooked and jars of peanut butter.
We also peeked into the Coat Closet, a room that's full of coats, gloves, hats and other clothing to distribute to those who need it. All of these items are brand new with tags. We learned that for many of the kids who are on Food for Kids, this might be the only new item of clothing they receive each year.
Joe explained that a lot of the donations that come in must be repackaged — for instance, potato chips that needed to be repacked into individual packages. Makes sense to me.
We went from there back to the big warehouse… which looked amazingly full of items. There are two major non-refrigerated sections and a freezer in the middle. Turns out, the Rice Depot has to pay $1500 a month for off-site refrigerated space to store a lot of those donated goods; a future capital campaign will address that need.
Simple Pleasures gift shop. This is probably what you think of when you think of the Arkansas Rice Depot — a lot of rice, right? These mixes have been individually created, mostly by Depot president Laura Rhea (and a couple by Lilly’s Dim Sum Then Some’s Kathy Webb). They range from Arkansas Dirty Rice to Hillbilly Chili to Presidential Parmesan, and just about everyone I’ve tried so far has been good.
Check out the organization's website or call (501) 565-8855.
This article brought to you by First Security Bank. For more great Arkansas stories on food, travel, sports, music and more, visit onlyinark.com.