Feeding the need: Loaves and Fishes builds Christmas baskets
Loaves and Fishes Food Bank of the Ozarks is making sure everyone gets to have a Christmas dinner.
Sara Hodgson, director and co-founder of the food bank, said volunteers have been preparing Christmas baskets filled with a ham, a pumpkin pie, whipped cream topping, a can of sweet potatoes and a can of corn for families in need.
“We have boxes for large families with a large ham, and the small families will get a smaller ham,” she said. “If we have stuffing, we’ll put in a box of stuffing, but we don’t have enough for everybody.”
Hodgson said Loaves and Fishes still needs stuffing mix and canned gravy so every Christmas basket can have a full spread.
“If anyone is looking to make a donation, we’re on the lookout for those items,” she said.
To prepare all of the baskets, Hodgson said Loaves and Fishes brought in three loads of hams, two loads of whipped cream and two loads of pies.
“It took several loads to get the stuff here because it was all imported from somewhere else,” she said. “We got part of the hams from the Northwest Arkansas Food Bank, and part of them were donated. Tyson Foods has recently donated some chicken, and we really appreciate that. Since we got a really excellent deal on the hams at first, we decided to go with the hams for our Christmas baskets.”
A lot of Loaves and Fishes’ supplies come from the Northwest Arkansas Food Bank in Bethel Heights, Hodgson said.
“It’s kind of luck of the draw,” she said. “They never know what they’re going to get in for sure, so we usually put an order in a couple of days before we pick up supplies. They just happened to have several hams, so I got every one that I possibly could.”
Hodgson continued, “We did have one person who donated enough money that we were able to buy the rest of the hams, so we have a total of 600 Christmas baskets to hand out.”
Loaves and Fishes is asking that people who are already registered in the food bank’s card file pick up their Christmas baskets first because there is a limited number, she said.
“If we have any left the last week before Christmas, then people are welcome to come in if they meet our income guidelines,” Hodgson said. “We have income guidelines because we’re trying to minister to people who are poor and in need, and we just serve Carroll County. A long time ago we serviced the fringe areas, but it got to be too much.”
Fortunately, she said, there are now food banks in Madison County, Boone County and Eagle Rock, Mo., to serve people in the surrounding areas.
In October, Hodgson said Loaves and Fishes fed 480 families in Carroll County, making for a total of 1,520 individuals served. She said the food bank handed out 21,223 pounds of food, or 11 tons, in just one month.
“It’s gone up in November, but we won’t have the official numbers yet until the end of the month,” she said. “Three weeks ago, our cupboards were bare. We hardly had anything to give out. Since then, we’ve gotten in an order from the Northwest Arkansas Food Bank, an order from the USDA government commodities and canned goods from a food drive the Berryville first-graders had.”
Local businesses have also stepped in to help, she said, such as Walmart donating fresh produce.
“We pick up from them three days a week, so we get fresh produce,” she said, “which is great to hand out to people. We also get some of their dented cans and stuff like that.”
Overall, Hodgson said the holidays are a fun time for the food bank because people come to them with donations.
“They’re great the rest of the year, too, but we always need more donations to buy food and food drive donations,” she said. “Right now, we especially need volunteers. We’re really on the low side for that.”
Loaves and Fishes does not pay any of its volunteers or officers a salary, she said, so the money can go into providing food for people.
“It’s a great part-time job for retired people,” Hodgson said. “If people can’t lift heavy items but they have office skills, then we have computer work and paperwork and filing that needs to be done.”
She said the food bank also needs more people who can haul pallets of food.
“We’ve got a flatbed trailer on loan that will hold eight pallets, and we also have people going to Walmart three times a week to pick up stuff,” she said. “We need people with pickup trucks that can haul items in. It’s a no pay and no compensation job, and a lot of times people will donate their own gas money.”
Anyone interested in volunteering at Loaves and Fishes can call the food bank at 870-423-4246. Volunteers under the age of 16 must have a designated supervisor with them, Hodgson said.
Donations also can be made to the food bank through PayPal, she said.
“People can go to our website, and we have an icon for PayPal that links directly there,” she said. “We also recently started doing Amazon Smile. If people designate Loaves and Fishes as their charity and go through Amazon Smile, then 0.5 percent of their purchases will go to Loaves and Fishes.”
According to the food bank’s statistics, the average person does not visit Loaves and Fishes more than four times a year.
“There is a certain number of people who need it all the time,” she said. “A lot of our clients are seniors who only have Social Security. We have a lot of people with kids who all of a sudden lose a job or just moved into the area or had their car break down. It’s situations like that where unexpected things happen, and they don’t have the money to fix it.”
Hodgson said Loaves and Fishes is blessed to have a community that provides them with supplies in order to help those in need in the area.
“God has blessed us,” she said. “It never ceases to amaze me how God provides. We were down to almost nothing a couple weeks ago, and now we’re full. We have two walk-in freezers that are full now, plus five chest freezers. The community has really come together to make sure that people are covered for the holidays.”