Jose Chavez walked into Feed Rogers Food Pantry last month and asked for a sandwich. The volunteers at the pantry answered no. They couldn’t give him a sandwich.
Instead, they handed him a grocery tote and let him fill it with the fixings to make a sandwich — and to make more sandwiches for his family of four. They helped him add fruit, salad, milk, juice and more to his bag.
Feed Rogers is one of many programs of the Northwest Arkansas Food Bank.
The regional food bank is the sole beneficiary this year of the Community Christmas Card project of the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
In a decades-old holiday tradition, readers submit monetary donations to the newspaper, which gifts every penny to the food bank. And donations are tax-deductible.
Readers who contribute $3 or more by Tuesday will see their names — or the name of someone they want to honor — listed on the Community Christmas Card published in the newspaper on Christmas Day.
Last year, readers contributed $21,000 for the 2021 Christmas Card, which also went to the food bank.
The Northwest Arkansas Food Bank provided 11.6 million meals in 2021 across Benton, Carroll, Madison and Washington counties through partnering agencies with direct access to clients in need, mobile pantries, emergency boxes and the state’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
Kent Eikenberry, food bank president and chief executive officer, said all money received from this year’s Community Christmas Card will be added to the food bank’s capital campaign.
The board of the food bank in 2021 launched a $25 million capital campaign to build an 82,425-square-foot distribution center in Lowell and increase meals distributed by more than 60% by 2025 and 20 million meals by 2045.
Eikenberry said $21 million of the money raised will go to the new facility, with $4 million reserved for programming to help the food insecure in Northwest Arkansas.
Feed Rogers was part of the food bank’s capital campaign from the start, Eikenberry said. But the opportunity arose to buy the building at 216 S. 13th St. and the food bank’s board advanced the opening of the pantry.
The new facility will include areas for cold storage and meat processing. It also will allow the food bank to increase the amount of fresh food distributed.
The board has raised about 90% of the money sought in the campaign, Eikenberry said.
The Northwest Arkansas Regional Planning Commission anticipates 1 million people living in Northwest Arkansas by 2045. An estimated 145,000 of those residents, about 14.5%, will live with food insecurity, Eikenberry said, citing information from the commission.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines food insecurity as “a lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life.”
“You and I both know someone living with food insecurity right now,” Eikenberry said.
Checking the list
Feed Rogers is the first direct service pantry for the food bank, which usually distributes food through partner agencies and mobile pantries, Eikenberry explained.
The unique food pantry lets clients choose their own food in a grocery-store setting.
“The old-school pantry model, where you hand them a box of food, just wasn’t working,” said Sabrina Thiede, the food bank’s director of programs. “We need to get the right food to the right people.”
Feed Rogers opened March 30, in partnership with St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church.
Chelsea Tatlow, manager of Feed Rogers, said the pantry, since its opening to Friday, fed 2,419 households with 12,531 visits to the pantry.
Guests schedule appointments — either online, on the phone or in person — to shop at the special store, Thiede said. No questions are asked beyond a guest’s name and address.
Each guest is given a grocery list upon arrival. Tatlow explained the shopping lists have been developed by the food bank team, listing what each shopper can get based on the size of the family.
For example, one card listed what a shopper could pick up for a family of six: four complete meal mixes; four containers of soup; four protein choices, which would total 5 pounds of meat; four vegetable choices; four beverages; four pasta or rice products; four breakfast items; and four “flex” items, which could include dessert or bread if available.
Each freezer or shelf is color coded to match the food groups listed on the shopping lists — the vegetable area had a green sign and green color on the card.
Some foods are not listed on the cards because they will perish in a day, Tatlow said, so clients may have as many as they want. The store recently received 22,000 pounds of sweet potatoes, which had no limit for guests. Neither did acorn squash.
Each family also received one bag of apples and two bags of beans.
“Then they spread their wings and fly,” Thiede said. “They have the same shopping experience as you or me.”
The Feed Rogers facility resembles a grocery store, but without cash registers or self-checkout stations. Guests push shopping carts past shelves and freezers, making food choices.
When their carts are full, volunteers “check out” the guests, ensuring they have gotten everything on their lists, and then bag the groceries.
Staff and volunteers can help guests fill their carts with items for special dietary needs, like diabetes or gluten-free products when available, Tatlow said. And staff also can refer guests to other agencies for rental assistance, medical care and more.
“We try to take care of the whole person with referrals, classes for overall health and well-being,” she said.
Guests can return in two weeks, unless they are facing an emergency situation, Tatlow said.
Staff and volunteers also can provide insight into food that might be good for diabetics and provide recipes for preparing it.
Volunteer Judy Bankhead of Rogers told shoppers they could store sweet potatoes in a paper bag in the same room as their hot water heaters, and the sweet potatoes would last all year.
Bankhead said she volunteers five days a week — two at Feed Rogers — for the social interaction. She also is a client. She explains she gets fresh vegetables and fruits for herself.
“But I got a gazillion sweet potatoes and gave them to my neighbors,” Bankhead said.
Loretta and D.J. Phillips, a mother and daughter, both had shopping baskets to feed their two families of two. The women both live on disability payments and visit Feed Rogers every few weeks or once a month.
“It helps so much,” Loretta Phillips said.
“The price of food is outrageous,” said D.J. Phillips. “We come here so we can pay our utilities.”
“And we don’t pick out what we don’t need,” Loretta Phillips added.
“We know that anyone can experience food insecurity and welcome all to our center,” Tatlow said. “It is our top priority to create an environment where neighbors feel safe, and that they are treated with dignity and respect by staff and volunteers.”

Print Headline: Donations to Christmas Card will allow holiday shopping
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