PINE BLUFF, Ark. – For some students, Spring Break means a vacation, but for many others in Arkansas, it’s a time when they don’t know where their next meal is coming from.
The latest statistics from the Arkansas Department of Education show almost 280,000 students get free or reduced lunch every day. That’s nearly 60% of kids enrolled in public schools. The Arkansas Department of Human Services National School Lunch Program feeds students daily 141,254 breakfasts, 225,790 lunches and 48,132 afternoon snacks.
In Pine Bluff Wednesday, hundreds of people waited all day for groceries. Many of them had children in the car. Cynthia Simmons kept her grandchildren who attend 2nd grade and pre-K entertained from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
“This is a short line right now. It’s getting long, but this is short,” Cynthia Simmons said laughing as a line trickled onto Commerce Street.
She and hundreds were in the Belair Middle School parking lot not to drop off kids, but to pick up food.
The Spring Break giveaway by First Ward Living Grace Pantry included 500 packages full of groceries, snacks, even a brand-new backpack, and a toy for every child. Families benefitting said it couldn’t have come at a better time.
“There’s a great need. If we didn’t need it, we wouldn’t be out here,” grandmother Marquentia Collier said.
Collier admits by the time she pays her bills, there’s almost nothing left to get food for her and her grandchildren.
“If the children are hungry, they can’t make good grades,” Collier insisted. “My little granddaughter tells me, ‘Grandma, make sure you get me to school on time so I can eat.’”
Each bag and each backpack wouldn’t be available without sponsors putting the money down to lift others up. Bill & Sharri Jones, Derrika Walker-Matthews, Summit Community Care and Wellcare Insurance all played a part.
“This could be me. I look at every situation of giving back that I could be broke, I could be less fortunate and homeless. God has placed me in a different platform that I’m able to be a giver,” Derrika Walker-Matthews said.
First Ward Living Grace Pantry tries to do mass giveaways at least once a month. Simmon said she wishes more people had a similar resource.