Free Food Transfer Hub for the Homeless

by Yu Bai
Delta Digital News Service

JONESBORO — About 48,000 homeless people live in Arkansas: 8.5% of them are veterans and 20% of them have a serious mental illness. People who suffer homelessness are also struggling with a serious problem: hunger.

Many factors are contributing to this problem. Homeless people in the age group of 60 to 65 in Arkansas are mostly African-American or Hispanic and they lack transportation to the food vendors, so they are more susceptible to food deprivation.

“I don’t think there is anything that directly contributes to homelessness other than the circle of poverty. People cannot buy food without money. The most difficult problem I have to face is about getting fresh food,” said Vonte Benjamin, who has been homeless since 2018.

Food Bank of Northeast Arkansas

The Food Bank of Northeast Arkansas started in Jonesboro in November 2012. This organization distributes food to people in need through nonprofit agencies and networks.

“We are a member of Feeding America. We have served more than 30 million pounds of food to homeless and the poor since we established,” Corporate Partnerships coordinator Amber Horton said.

Living in an agricultural state, FBNA makes every effort to ensure it provides the freshest and safest food. Local and national manufacturers, retailers and growers supply the food sources. Otherwise, people who work in the Department of Food Security will destroy other unidentified food.

Benjamin said the place he has been living has no kitchen to cook in so he went to the food bank to find fresh food.

The organization runs its work with a mature industrial chain. It distributes four-to-five kinds of food to 20 locations in 12 different counties each year. People must check a schedule list before they go to the designated location to get food.

Homeless people have a chance to get an emergency box that includes sufficient food once a year. It is the only special program requiring them to show their identification.

“In recent years, we provided about 2.5 million pounds of fresh produce through the support from grower partners; it’s equivalent to 62 tractor-trailers’ load capacity,” said Jennifer Hannah, FBNA outreach coordinator.

Competition and Cooperation with Arkansas Foodbank

As the distribution center, FBNA works with more than 100 organizations, including the Arkansas Foodbank, which located in Little Rock.

The Arkansas Foodbank started in January 1984, and it is the foundation in the fight against hunger. It forms an important food hub with FBNA for providing fresh food supplies to nearly 34,000 people in 12 counties.

These organizations feature the same programs, such as food pantries, soup kitchens and shelters for homeless people.

Compared with FBNA, the Arkansas Foodbank can access other partner organizations in big cities such as Houston, Texas because of its central location.

“Both of our food banks play a special role as warehousing and distribution facility, and it is more in the sense of complements rather than competes,” FBNA Compliance and Facilities manager Jeff Fielder said.

However, there is a program unique to the Arkansas Foodbank — it has a partnership with the Arkansas Rice Depot.

Rice farmers in Arkansas realized they had a surplus crop and many hungry neighbors in 1982. They tried to improve the lives of hungry Arkansans with the establishment of Arkansas Rice Depot.

Arkansas Foodbank depends on the food source of Rice Depot, and the Rice Depot needs the food bank as a shipment center to help it transport food to other places.

The food bank constantly is looking for better and more efficient ways to deliver much-needed food to people. It is a vital organization to help solve the food shortage and security problems of the homeless.