One million snackpacks handed out to children in Northwest Arkansas

story by Kim Souza

The SnackPack for Kids program purchases and distributes nearly 6,800 snack packs to local children at risk for hunger, and Friday (Feb. 7) marked a bittersweet milestone for the Samaritan Community Center handed out its one millionth snack pack to Clara Chambers a student at R.E. Baker Elementary in Bentonville.

Nearly one in three local children are at risk for hunger, in what as seen as “the land of plenty,” said Debbie Rambo, executive director at the Samaritan Community Center and cofounder of the snack-pack program nine years ago. The program began when Rambo transitioned her work into the non-profit sector. Rambo said years ago a friend and teacher told her of a young boy that collapsed in school on a Monday morning when he smelled food aromas coming from the cafeteria. The school officials then discovered that the young boy’s last meal had been his school lunch the previous Friday.

“That was just unfathomable to me and I said then that someday I was going to do something about this problem that so many were unaware existed,” Rambo said. “I had seen on the news what the Community Clearinghouse was doing in Fort Smith to help get food to hungry children and said that’s something we could can do too.”

SnackPack for Kids began with three schools providing supplemental food for the weekend to 300 local students. Today there are 95 schools in the program and it covers more than 3,500 square miles of area from Siloam Springs to Green Forest and from Bentonville to Lincoln.

An estimated 3,200 volunteers donate 7,400 hours of time annually to pack the snacks and deliver them to the 95 schools each week.  At Friday’s event, mayors from Bentonville, Springdale and Rogers each spoke of the impact the program has on their school children.

“I have done some research and I can assure each of you children here today, that everyone in this auditorium, everyone, used to be a kid. We all understand how important it is to take good care of our future leaders,” said Bentonville Mayor Bob McCaslin. 

He read a proclamation signed by his mayoral colleagues proclaiming Friday (Feb. 7) as SnackPack for Kids Day. In the Bentonville District, McCaslin said 700 children are helped each week. The students have received 100,000 snack packs over the life of the program.

Rogers Mayor Greg Hines said the program originated in Rogers, because concerned citizens sought to make a difference. Today, Hines said snack packs are distributed in 13 schools across the city to 900 kids each week. More than 163,000 snack packs have been handed out so far.

“We are only as strong as the least among us,” Hines said.

Springdale Mayor Doug Sprouse said the contributions to his community have been tremendous and the need continues to grow. He said 30 schools are involved across the city, and 2,200 children benefit each week. More than 230,000 snack packs have been handed out to Springdale children so far.

“We know we make a difference, but there are other children we don’t reach,” Rambo said. 

The cost of running the program is exhaustive. Rambo, fighting back tears, said it wouldn’t be possible without the Walmart Foundation and all the help they provide. United Way, Arvest Bank, Endeavor Foundation, CCF Brands, General Mills, ConAgra, Tyson Foods and Rotary International were also lauded for their continued financial and volunteer support over the years.

The cost of each of snack pack is $1.79, multiplied by 6,800 recipients is more than $12,000 each week and there is no time off for inclement weather because the kids always need the food supplements at home.

Ginger Brooks, board member at the Samaritan Community Center, said the Snack Pack program has reached out to Springdale-based Tyson Foods and a dietician in an effort to provide healthier, higher-protein valued snacks. Tyson Foods recently contributed $45,000 and its nutritional expertise in product development.

Rambo said recently that other food companies had also been approached to help create a higher protein, snack item that could be purchased wholesale. She said the charity has become so large that it is ordering snack items directly from the manufacturer at a cost savings, but in huge volumes.

“We continue this work, and pray for a day when it’s not longer needed. But until then, we will be here pushing toward two million healthier snacks,” Rambo said.