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.
They come to the Arkansas Rice Depot or to a designated drop-off point to pick up food that they’ll then distribute to families who come to those pantries.
UPDATE: The Arkansas Rice Depot is now part of the Arkansas Foodbank Network. It's located down 65th Street, a few blocks away. Shop for rice mixes and other items here.