story and photos by Julie Bagley
The Jewels of Giving Gala Friday night (Nov. 16) was the best occasion to bring out one’s best sparkles for the NWA Food Bank. The event was held at the John Q. Hammons Convention Center in Rogers.
The money raised by ticket sales and silent auction items goes to meet the growing need for food assistance in Northwest Arkansas. The gala is its main fundraiser and more than 200 attended. This is the third year for the event and it’s grown every year. However, the need has outpaced the food bank.
NWA Food Bank President/CEO Marge Wolf said they’ve seen demand increase by 25% every year despite the slow-recovering economy.
“There are so many people having events like this and try finding an (open) weekend. It’s getting difficult and (it seems) the same people rotate from place-to-place,” said Wolf.
She said the NWA Food Bank will distribute more than six million pounds of food this year. Last year, it was nearly 5.4 million pounds of food.
Despite being the hometown of Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Tyson Foods there is still those who are food insecure in Benton and Washington Counties.
“There is an incredible need,” said Wolf, “Even though some are back to work they are underemployed. Their mortgage never stopped, they still need their medications and the price of those things including food has gone up.”
Wolf said being food insecure isn’t exclusive to adults. More than 40% of clients served are children under the age of 18.
“It’s not just adults worrying about their kids having food. It’s kids worrying about their parents not having food and their siblings having food,” said Wolf.
One of those who worry for her classmates is Gabrielle Kohn, 12.
“It’s sad,” she said, “Because we are being treated differently (in school) because these kids don’t have support in life or in food. They may get one meal a day from school.”
Her mother, Pam, serves as a board member for the NWA Food Bank and she said it’s important to expose her daughter to events like the Jewels of Giving Gala.
“I have had experiences in my childhood being exposed to opportunities to give back and those memories have struck me since I was her age,” she said, “It’s important for her to learn and understand that people are out there who don’t have what we have.”
Gabrielle said it means a lot to her that her mother exposes her to such causes.
“My mom told me that all the money will go to people who don’t have food. It feels like I’m making a difference and that feels fantastic,” she said.
Every dollar donated to the NWA Food Bank purchases five meals for the hungry. The 2000 census determined Benton and Washington counties to be two of the top three counties with the most people living below poverty level. The NWA Food Bank states every day in Northwest Arkansas nearly 100,000 people go hungry.
Despite how much money is raised Friday night, Wolf said the next day, the planning by her staff of eleven people begins for next year’s gala.