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Arkansas rice producers give largest-ever donation to fight hunger

Daniel Breen
Officials with the Arkansas Foodbank and the state's rice industry pose in front of sacks of donated rice at the food bank's Little Rock facility on Thursday.

Thursday is National Rice Day, and Arkansas rice growers, millers and producers have donated a record amount of their crop to help fight hunger in the state.

The state’s rice industry typically donates the first products of the harvest season to food banks, with this year’s donation to the Arkansas Foodbank coming in at 214,000 pounds or 1.6 million servings.

Arkansas Foodbank’s outgoing CEO Rhonda Sanders celebrated the news, saying it’s a particularly hard time for those facing food insecurity.

“We all know that we’re still reeling in many ways from the effects of COVID. The economy is struggling… and for families who are literally going month-to-month and paycheck-to-paycheck, you add a 30% increase to your food bill, increase your gas bill, and you have now made a whole group of people food insecure,” Sanders said.

Sanders says demand has not let up, and expects the food bank will again distribute 40 million pounds of food this year as it had done during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Central Arkansas rice grower Mark Isbell said it’s a chance for one of the state’s more lucrative agricultural industries to give back.

“Arkansas grows about 50% of the rice in the United States, which accounts for about 1.2 million acres this year in our state, grown across 40 counties,” Isbell said. “It makes up… over 25,000 jobs in the state and an economic impact of $6 billion.”

The donation will be divided evenly among the state’s 75 counties and distributed to the four other Feeding America food banks serving Arkansas. The number of people facing food insecurity in Arkansas has risen by about 11% since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Daniel Breen is a Little Rock-based reporter, anchor and producer for KUAR.