story by Kim Souza
Pizza, soda and $120,000 in grants put big smiles on the faces of six local charity representatives Wednesday (Jan. 23) as General Mills hosted a luncheon in their honor at the company's sales office in Rogers.
Since 2007 General Mills through its corporate foundation has given $1.8 million to 157 organizations and Northwest Arkansas continues to benefit from that benevolence, according to Mark Mast, team leader for the company’s local community involvement team.
This year’s local winners include:
• NWA Children’s Shelter
• Samaritan Community Center
• The Jones Center
• Mercy YMCA
• Arkansas Athlete’s Outreach
• Benton County Boys and Girls Club
The recipients had to compete with hundreds of applicants for 25 grants in the amount of $20,000 given this year across the entire General Mills corporation.
The fund requests must align with one of the company’s core pillars relating to food and fitness for healthier lifestyles.
Mast said this year General Mills expanded its grant awards from $10,000 in past years, which means more help for local organizations working to feed and nourish residents across Northwest Arkansas.
Debbie Rambo, director for the Samaritan Community Center, said the funds received by General Mills would provide 11,500 bags of food for local kids facing food insecurity in our immediate area.
“We feed 5,500 kids a week with our snack pack program. We send home a bag of snacks each Friday so that these kids will have something to eat on the weekend. In the past 6 to 7 years we have expanded from two schools to 90 elementary schools and Head Start Centers here in Northwest Arkansas,” Rambo shared.
She said each year students and teachers are interviewed and have reported fewer absences on Friday, as that is the day the food is distributed. Also there have been fewer disciplinary issues on Monday from the kids in the program.
Rambo says educators tell her many of these children carry the weight of adults on their minds worrying about the parents.
“This food gives these kids one less thing to worry about when they go home each Friday,” Rambo said. “We are so grateful to General Mills for helping us provide healthy snacks for these children.”
Rambo said at $1.75 spent per bag, the cost of feeding 5,500 children each week is huge, and it takes much collaboration to pull it off.
"We know good nutrition is essential to learning and an education is the key to breaking the cycle of poverty that exists today," Rambo said.
Steve Jones, with NWA Chiildren’s Shelter, said the emergency shelter can house up to 48 children at one time and it serves the entire state.
“One thing we identified, is that children we serve need basic nutrition information and this grant will allow to bring a nutritionist in to work closely with these students and this teaching will be reinforced in our school. We are going to introduce more physical activities, purchase additional equipment and prepare a rope’s course at the facility to benefit these children,” Jones said.
He thanked General Mills for their grant and other services provided to the shelter throughout the year.
Kelly Kemp, chief advancement officer at the Jones Center, said the grant funds from General Mills will be used to provide a hot lunch for the kids who attend the summer youth camp at the Jones Center. The Jones Center announced a partnership with Camp War Eagle last week to provide dozens of local children the opportunity to experience a day camp version of War Eagle’s residential summer event.
Kemp thanked General Mills for their support and encouraged the other charities in the room to seek out opportunities to work with the Jones Center in the future.
Jacob Hutson, chief professional officer for Benton County Boys and Girls Club, called attention to a quote posted on the wall in the conference room at General Mills: “We’re all working together, that’s the secret,” Sam Walton.
Hutson said all of the charities gathered work together to serve many of the same children with the support of great community patrons like General Mills and others who are making a difference in children’s lives.
Mercy YMCA will use their funds to instill positive behaviors focused around 5210 Club concept:
5 servings of fruits and vegetables daily
2 hours or less of screen time
1 hour or more of physical play
0 sugar-sweetened drinks,
Nicole Crawford, spokeswoman for Mercy YMCA, said this outreach will be given to parents as well as students to better educate both demographic on healthier lifestyles.
Likewise, Arkansas Athlete’s Outreach will spend its grant money on the nutrition component of a healthy lifestyle. Brad Freiss, executive director for the non-profit, said today’s children are the first generation who won’t live longer than their parents. His organization will focus on cross training student athletes, coaches and parents with the help of a sports nutritionist who can teach them to make better food choices and understand portion sizes.
Freiss said athletes will be taught to focus on three areas for healthier living: proper nutrition, training without injury and rest.
“Too many kids don’t get enough rest and recovery, They have to be taught the importance,” he said.