I smile at a new picture of my niece and nephews on Facebook. They're with their mom at Chick-fil-A.
It seems normal to me. It's hard to admit, but if I'm honest? Most of the time I don't think about the fact that there are probably kids their age down the street... who will go to bed hungry tonight. While other kids are excited for the weekend, they will wonder what they're going to eat without the school lunch to count on. I can't imagine what it feels like to hear your precious 2 year old say she's hungry, and not be able to meet that need. There are a lot of people in Northwest Arkansas who don't have to imagine it. Because they're living it.
According to research from The Pack Shack, 26% of children in Northwest Arkansas are food insecure, and 45,000 are at risk of hunger on the weekends. Hunger is a major problem for other age-groups in Arkansas as well, including seniors. That's the not-so-good news. Fortunately, we live in a place where there are lots of amazing people working together on some good news.
Recently I had an opportunity to talk with some of those amazing people. Bret Raymond and Jarod Ring are a part of The Pack Shack team. Their mission is to, "supply provisions and opportunities for our neighbors in need."
The Pack Shack joins a network of Hunger Fighting organizations in Northwest Arkansas. Part of their goal is to work together with these organizations to raise awareness and provide opportunities for people to engage first hand in the fight against hunger. One of the primary ways they do this is through what Bret calls, "crazy fun meal packaging events."
Jarod explains, "These events are extremely hands on. You see these dried goods go from the massive 50 pound bags that they're shipped in, funneled into a bag that is then weighed and heat sealed and boxed up. And all this transformation happens right there in front of you."
Jarod says volunteers of all ages can be a part of this event. "You've got 3 and 4 year old kids working with 94 and 95 year old grandparents. One of the cool dynamics about these events is that there's a job for everyone, and everyone's job is needed."
In the course of a two hour shift, volunteers will help pack anywhere from 10,000 to over 100,000 nutritious meals, which are then distributed to food relief organizations in Northwest Arkansas, and around the world.
Part of the goal of these events is to provide a first step. "People want to get involved. They want to help their neighbors. Hunger is something we can all rally around, but you don't always know where to begin or how to take that first step. So we really try to provide that opportunity to get involved with something that's fun and engaging... that's truly making an impact in the lives of so many people across the region," says Jarod.
Bret explains that these events can be a great experience not only for individuals, but for many different kinds of groups, "Whether it's a business, a church, a school, a sports team, or a birthday. There's a 7 year old girl giving away her 8th birthday to help with packing meals."
The Pack Shack's first meal packaging event in Northwest Arkansas will be March 7-8, at Immanuel Baptist Church in Rogers. Click here to sign yourself or a team up to for a two hour shift!
After the launch event, Jarod explains, The Pack Shack will continue to offer "mobile events" throughout the year. "We pack up a box truck and we bring everything on-site to a business, a school, a church... and we actually pack the meals right there on-site with the employees or the congregation or the students."
If you'd like more information about hosting an event, click here.
If you're like me, I can get a little overwhelmed when I see how great the need is. It's hard to know where to start. But when I look at those pictures of my niece and nephews, I wonder what I would do if they were one of the 45,000?
We can't do everything. But with the help of organizations like The Pack Shack... we can do something to make a difference.