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Arkansas communities rolling out mini food pantries for MLK Day

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Hannah Calhoon
Engage Arkansas
Engage Arkansas staffers load up their moving truck with newspaper dispensers, which will be repurposed as food pantries.

Newspaper dispensers, those squat, yellow metal boxes which once dotted the pre-digital landscape, are getting a new life as miniature food pantries.

Volunteers in more than 60 communities across Arkansas will be working on Martin Luther King Jr. Day next week rolling out the mini food pantries and holding community events to help fill them up.

Starr Crow is civic engagement manager at Engage Arkansas, the state-run volunteer agency spearheading the effort. She says they partnered with the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette to repurpose 100 newspaper dispensers as food distribution points across the state.

“These boxes, we learned, were going to be used for scrap metal. So we said, ‘Can we take them?’ They’re of real value to these communities, and the response from the communities is overwhelming,” Crow said.

Crow says communities identify one local leader to host the pantry and ensure it remains filled throughout the year. She says they can also double as public works of art, showing imagery or colors representative of the community.

With Arkansas ranking fifth in the nation when it comes to food insecurity, Crow says tackling the problem is especially important to help some of the state’s most vulnerable populations.

“I want to remove the stigma around food insecurity and people in need, and also thinking about child advocacy. A lot of children aren’t going to tell you when they’re hungry, and you can’t really learn when you’re hungry,” Crow said “And so [we’re] making those accessible and discreet, where people can just drop in, get what they need. They don’t have to talk about it, they can just grab what they need and go.”

In Little Rock, food and other items can be dropped off Friday morning from 7:30 to 10 at the Clinton Presidential Center. Those items will go toward stocking the new food pantry at Mabelvale Middle School, which will also be accepting donations on-site on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Locations of other food pantries and more information about MLK Day volunteer events is available at Engage Arkansas’ website.

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