Food Security in The Arkansas Delta

On Thursday, September 12, 2013, Delta Citizens Alliance (DCA) hosted the 6th and final community forum in regards to the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation funded program entitled, “Creating Sustainable in the Arkansas Delta”. 

Working in partnership with the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, DCA designed a “learning environment” on the subject of food security in the Arkansas Delta.  The community forum was held at the Dumas Community Center in Dumas, Arkansas from 9 am to 3 pm.

DCA’s Executive Director, Larry Williams, introduced himself and provided background information on the organization and explained the purpose for the forum as part of a series of six forums, held on 6 different community development issues relevant to the Arkansas delta region (Housing; Green Jobs/Renewable Energy; Juvenile Justice Reform; Economic Development/Creative Economy; Prison Re-Entry; and Food System Security).  Mr. Williams informed the audience that DCA was grateful of having the opportunity to interface with so many Arkansas delta communities on all of the issues the community forums had covered.  Mr. Williams then recognized DCA Board member, Onie Norman, a Dumas resident who has been involved with DCA even before its inception during the Mid-South Delta Initiative (MSDI), a W.K. Kellogg Foundation initiative.  He thanked Mrs. Norman for being such a dedicated Board member and supportive force for DCA over so many years.  Williams also alluded to the fact that Dianne Williams, the luncheon keynote speaker, was also a long-time DCA coach and member.

Dumas’ mayor, James Berry, arrived early to share a hearty welcome and his personal story about hunger in Dumas.  He reflected upon the meager beginnings of the Food Pantry and his involvement with finding the facility a better location.

Lerone Thomas, County Administrator, Arkansas Department of Human Services – Desha County, was scheduled to be the first presentation of the day.  He was slated to talk about the “Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program” (SNAP).  However, due to an unforeseen conflict, he was not able to be in attendance.  He had called earlier and provided his apology.  Mr. Williams informed the audience that Mr. Thomas was also a former DCA Board Member and supporter and that DCA realizes that agendas change sometimes.  However, DCA requested that Mrs. Jacqueline Ross, Director of Delta Regional Community Services Outreach Network, Inc. come forth and share their organization’s perspectives on hunger in the delta area.  Mrs. Ross eloquently filled the void day by informing the audience of the work founded by her husband and CEO, Louis Ross.  She indicated that “hunger has increased in Pine Bluff, partially because of plant closings such as the Arsenol and other closings.”  She further suggested that the definition  of“poor” appears to be expanding to also include the “working poor”, or people who are employed but are not able to make ends meet.  She provided statistical data indicating that their independent food bank provides services to a mixed demographics that is approximately “80% black, 15% white, and 5% hispanic and other.”

Elizabeth Taylor, with UAMS, College of Public Health, shared the findings of a study by UAMS on Healthy Nutritious Eating,  that closely looked at access to fruits and vegetables in Arkansas.  She recognized Mrs. Onie Norman for being a community partner in the Nopren Program that looked at the relationship between nutrition and obesity.  The findings of the UAMS study indicate that although access to fruits and vegetables in the delta area is the lowest in the state, that delta establishments are using creative ways to provide frozen vegetables in dollar stores, convenience stores, and other establishments.  She suggested that access to fresh fruits and vegetables is much easier in more urban areas of the state due to the location of mega super markets.  She also recommended the following action plan around food system security in the delta.

UAMS suggested Action Plan

for more Food Security in the delta

-           Continue to work with UAMS to finalize the survey/study on access to nutritious food

-           Advocate for establishment of more farmers’ markets

-           More education on healthy food/nutrition/financial literacy

-           Advocate with convenience stores to offer more fruits and vegetables

-           Identify more financial resources and assistance

The featured presenter of the day was Dianne Williams, Chief Program Officer, for the Arkansas Food Bank.  Dianne has a stellar track record in the community development arena throughout the region, state, and nation.  Dianne began her presentation by suggesting that her preference was to define the subject matter as Food Security rather than Food (in) Security.  She also pointed to the definition of food security as defined by the World Health Organization that was contained on the flyer DCA distributed announcing the event:

1.         Food Availability - sufficient quantities of food

2.         Food Access - sufficient resources, both economic and physical

3.         Food Use - Knowledge of basic nutrition, care, adequate water and sanitation

She also offered the definition of the alternative, food insecurity, as defined by USDA:

1.         Lack of access

2.         Limited Availability

3.         Trade-offs

Dianne continued her presentation by acknowledging that the AR Food Bank is a member of Feeding America which has over 300 member food banks distributed approximately “16 million pounds in 2012, and was on track to distribute 20 million pounds in 2013.”

She then outlined the PATH TO FOOD SECURITY:

What People Do for themselves (Food Insecure)

Government Assistance

(Food Secure)

“Charity”

Purchase WIC Investment
Grow SNAP Non-profits
Share Feeding Programs Local communities

Dianne said she believes one of the main culprits of food insecurity is “non-living wage jobs.”  She further advocates that “we need to teach people how to grow food.”  Further in her presentation, Dianne suggested her primary solution to food insecurity when she state (forming coalitions) “I believe is the only way to address some of these issues.”

A good example of coalition building is the AR No Kid Hungry Coalition which started out of the Governor’s office and is comprised of :

AR Hunger Relief Alliance                                        Obesity Prevention Coalition

Out of School Network                                              AR Health Department

DHS-Summer Feeding & Afterschool                       AR Food Bank and many more

snack programs

The community demographic that is disproportionately affected by hunger, and is often overlooked is the senior citizen population.

So many of the hungry are seniors because of:

-           High living expenses

-           Spouse dies/less food stamps

-           Food preparation (no interest/no energy/bad health)

-           Access

-           Grandparents raising grand and great-grandchildren

In her closing remarks, Dianne stated that “Hunger is a Community Issue.”  It is directly related to quality of life and economics.  One of her favorite quotes comes from Margaret J. Wheatley in her work entitled “Turning to One Another”, where she quoted ,“We can change the world if we start listening to one another again.”

Another favorite quote comes from Mother Teresa, “If you can’t feed 100 people, then feed one.”

DCA is grateful that Dianne also came prepared with the following Action Plan/Next Steps:

-           Can’t feed 100, then feed one (on personal level)

-           Listen to each other

-           Form coalitions (i.e. The Arkansas Delta Hunger Relief Coalition)

She warned, however, that there is “not a lot of money because the will of the people on the issue is low.” Educate!

To round out the day on a local note, Onie Norman, DCA Board Member and community advocate and activist offered the audience a glimpse of her wisdom and insight on the subject matter.  Onie first acknowledged Mrs. Hattie Watts who started the Dumas Food Pantry out of her house.  “She kept doing what she was doing until now that the Dumas Food Pantry is going to be bigger and it is going to do well because there are more resources.”

Onie also offered one of her favorite quotes by Zig Zigler, who said, “Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly until you can do it better.”

Onie continued by providing current statistics on the new Dumas Food Pantry which opened in June, 2013.  In August, the food bank served 647 individuals and 237 families.  She feel that “most of the people coming to the pantry are in the gap.” (The working poor)

Onie closed her presentation and summed it all up by aptly saying,

“I want to leave some clones of me (Onie) when I’m gone.  Kids

need to be taught about volunteering and giving back to the community. It’s about

feeling good inside about something that you did.”