Arkansas students receiving school-based food assistance could be getting some extra help thanks to a new program by the Arkansas Food Bank.
The food bank announced the Emergency School Pantry Program, which is a partnership with five other food banks in the state, and will provide food boxes for 36 weeks.
Rhonda Sanders, CEO of the Arkansas Food Bank, says the goal is to have the program continue even after the COVID-19 pandemic is under control.
"Each of the five food banks in the state will get $15,000 that will help them transport the food to the schools, give the schools technical assistance on how to set up a pantry, how to operate a pantry, all that good stuff. And our goal is that these pantries will remain in place after this opportunity," Sanders said.
Sanders says the program is funded through a joint federal and state assistance program known as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF. Students enrolled in a USDA feeding program such as Free and Reduced Lunch are eligible to receive the boxes, which will be distributed to as many as 50 school districts across Arkansas.
Sanders says 41 school districts are already participating, and schools will likely distribute the boxes once a week.
"And this will be their choice on how they set it up, for it to be a drive-thru where the family can drive through and get it, the students could take it home with them, but they will determine how that distribution is," Sanders said. "And it is a supplemental box, it will be food that the entire family can eat."
Each school district will receive up to $25,000 to run the program, as well as $5,000 in food credits to their local food bank.
The Arkansas Food Bank has already identified 13 districts to receive the boxes, including in Bryant, Batesville, Pine Bluff and Heber Springs. Others include the Boys and Girls clubs of Drew County, El Dorado and Smackover-Norphlet, as well as school districts in Bradford, Caddo Hills, Gurdon, Mountain Pine and Guy-Perkins.