Thanks to partnerships and giving hearts across the region, more than 150 University of Arkansas - Fort Smith students departed for spring break with grocery sacks in hand, helping calm anxieties of food insecurity during an uncertain and challenging time.
Staff and faculty members packed sacks for students throughout the week, stocked to meet the needs of not only the students who requested groceries but their families as well. A generous donation from Tyson Foods Thursday will allow UAFS to offer students in need frozen meat as well – a first for the Lion Pride Pantry.
A 2019 survey from the Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice, College, and University Basic Needs Insecurity: A National #RealCollege Survey Report found that more than 41 percent of students at four-year colleges and universities had experienced food insecurity within a month. Further, 44 percent of students from four-year institutions worried about running out of food, and nearly half of the students surveyed could not afford to eat balanced meals.
Over the past year, the university has proactively aimed to meet the needs of any food-insecure students through the Lion Pride Food Pantry and the Grab and Go Sack Lunch Program on campus. Now, with the COVID-19 (novel coronavirus) outbreak in the state, and the mandates from all levels of government to practice social distancing, many residents who may have lived paycheck-to-paycheck are navigating through layoffs and the financial burdens of a nationwide crisis.
“These food sacks are so important,” explained UAFS Dean of Students Dave Stevens. “We’ve spoken with students who needed a little extra food in the home because their children are out of school this week. We’ve talked to some who are not working or not working as many hours as they normally would due to the public’s response to the virus, and some students just appreciate not having to go into a chaotic and crowded grocery store at a time like this.”
In addition to non-perishable items packed in the grocery sacks, Tyson Foods donated nearly 500 pounds of frozen chicken to the pantry, adding valuable protein options to the pantry.
As an international leader in food production founded in Northwest Arkansas nearly a century ago, Tyson Foods has committed to feeding a changing world, both through responsible production and enormous philanthropic goals. Over the past 15 years, Tyson has donated over 100 million pounds of food to high-need areas and is five years into a campaign to contribute another $50 million to innovative initiatives at the local level.
“We couldn’t be more thankful to Tyson and their efforts to supporting our students during this global pandemic,” explained Blake Rickman, executive director of the UAFS Foundation. “As a regional institution, the students we serve are truly aiming to change the trajectories of their lives through comprehensive, future-focused education. Our students can’t learn if they’re worried about where their next meal will come from or how they’ll feed their children. Especially in a time of crisis, the UAFS Foundation hopes to serve every student in need, and this gift from Tyson will allow us to aid some of our most vulnerable populations directly.”
“These gestures of kindness and compassion are emblematic of the generosity of our campus and our regional community,” added Stevens. “During an unprecedented time such as this, the stress and physical toll of hunger and uncertainty can be devastating. Our students work hard in the classroom every day. Our students are seeking brighter futures, and to be able to come together to help students meet their needs and achieve their goals is extremely fulfilling.”
Canned vegetables, soups, chili, rice, pasta, tomato sauce, macaroni and cheese, hot cereal, and peanut butter and jelly were included in the grocery sacks, along with assorted snacks and meal packs. The frozen protein included 22 cases of nutrient-rich and easy to prepare frozen chicken.