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Bentonville restaurants partner with Northwest Arkansas Food Bank for "Square Meals"

An arial view of downtown Bentonville.
Downtown Bentonville, Inc.
An arial view of downtown Bentonville.

Northwest Arkansas Food Bank is partnering with businesses in downtown Bentonville to support nine local food pantries throughout the region. Ozarks at Large’s Rachell Sanchez-Smith spoke with Kristen Nicholson, vice president of public relations MHP/Team SI, about the brand new initiative called “Square Meals.”

Kristen Nicholson: It's really just dining out at local restaurants in Bentonville for a great cause. We have 13 restaurants that are participating, you go in on August 9th or August 10th to any of the 13 participating restaurants and a portion of the proceeds benefit hunger relief in northwest Arkansas. We’ve partner with the Northwest Arkansas Food Bank and they serve 4 counties, so they've identified a number of food pantries that will benefit from just going out and eating at restaurants.

Rachell Sanchez-Smith: Who's benefiting from this? What kind of impact does Northwest Arkansas Food Bank have? How many people are they feeding?

KN: so food insecurity in Arkansas is a really big issue. A lot of people are surprised to learn that food insecurity in northwest Arkansas is a large issue. The northwest Arkansas Food Bank serves about 70,000 people annually. It's kind of a surprising number. Last year, they served over 11 million meals. As we're getting to back to school time, hunger is something that really impacts children's ability to learn, because if you don't know where your next meal is coming from and you're hungry, doing homework is not necessarily your focus. So, it's important to address that food insecurity issue, and it's something that our company is very passionate about.

RSS: I love that you touched a little bit there about what food insecurity looks like. It's not necessarily always what we believe hunger to be—that there's just literally nothing in the fridge. Sometimes it's “I don't know where this next meal is coming from,” and that worry also plays into this issue.

KN: That that is a huge part of it, you know, when you don't know where your next meal is coming from, you're not going to eat a regular meal. you're going to think, “OK I’m going to take a bite here, because I also have to maybe share it with my siblings,” or a parent may go hungry because they want to feed their children so they're not necessarily eating, and that can really weigh on a family and individual in a family. When you don't know where you're going to have for breakfast or for lunch the next day, you're going to have to portion out those meals and it's not a full meal. That really impacts everything; it impacts your ability to work and impacts your ability to focus. So for children who are going back to school it impacts their ability to focus during school. And yes, they do receive lunches at school but what about the meals on the weekends and nights?

RSS: From previous reporting and listening to community advocates and what the Northwest Arkansas Food Bank is doing, it's not just providing meals but providing good meals, healthy and nutritious meals.

KN: You hit the nail on the head with healthy and nutritious. There are food deserts where some people can just go down the street to the gas station. They may not necessarily have access to healthy nutritious [foods], and unfortunately when it comes finances, sometimes those healthy nutritious meals are not always as affordable as the less healthy options. So, having a healthy well-balanced diet is also important for your overall health and your ability to be able to focus during the school hours or be able to be protective at work.

RSS: Can you tell us again when and where the event will last and how can people support during the Square Meal event?

KN: it's Wednesday August 9th and Thursday August 10th, there is a full list of participating restaurants here. You can go in, just have a meal, and there could be proceeds that benefit. Or in some restaurants, it's a specialty dish. So, if you go into flying fish, you order the fish tacos, proceeds from those fish tacos go to these food pantries. Or if you go into Onyx on the Bentonville square if you order the azure latte, proceeds will benefit this initiative.

RSS: When people are and customers are going into these restaurants, do they have to specify anything or does that come inherently with this event?

KN: It comes with it, however, it's always good just ask questions. We will have posters and signage—every table will have a little table tent there with information—and then if you choose to make an additional donation, there's a QR code on the table where you can donate if you're feeling extra generous and want to do something a little additional beyond just buying some fish tacos.

RSS: One last question before you go, as I was looking into the data and with Northwest Arkansas Food Bank, just the sheer amount of people that they could help, kind of a question that we frequently get is, “Well are there other programs, are there other things that can help them?” And on their website, just as a quick tidbit, I found that only 59% of the people who are getting those meals are SNAP eligible. So, for some families, this may be the only time that they can get some additional meals and some additional funding.

KN: Yes, that is definitely a big issue. Our agency we've been around for 51 years, we are very passionate about hunger relief causes and the Northwest Arkansas Food Bank has so many wonderful programs. And again, you just don't realize the full impact that food insecurity has. It could be someone you work with and you never know, it could be a student that you are in class with at university, or an elementary school, or high school. It could be your neighbor down the street, it could be someone you go to church with. The faces of hunger are very surprising, but there are programs available, there are a number of food pantries and then the Northwest Arkansas Food Bank has a number of different programs. But, that's something that at MHP/Team SI we've been just passionate about getting involved and helping not only raise awareness about the issue, but putting our money where our mouth is trying to figure out ways to partner with other community businesses to help raise funds for this issue.

This transcript has been edited and condensed for clarity’s sake.

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Rachell-Sanchez Smith is an associate producer for <i>Ozarks at Large.</i>
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