NWA Food Bank relocating to $22 million building in Lowell

by Jeff Della Rosa ([email protected]) 2,522 views 

The Northwest Arkansas Food Bank will relocate into an 82,425-square-foot building in Lowell. Construction is underway on the new building that's nearly four times larger than its existing building in Springdale.

Northwest Arkansas Food Bank in Springdale will expand into a nearly $22 million facility in Lowell, allowing the nonprofit to better address the rising need for hunger relief services. It’s nearly completed a fundraising campaign to support the construction of the 82,425-square-foot building and its expanded operations and programs.

President and CEO Kent Eikenberry attributed the campaign’s success to those who understand the nonprofit’s mission and see it as an investment into the Northwest Arkansas economy.

Eikenberry explained that as the region’s population increases, so will the need for hunger relief services. By 2045, the nonprofit is expected to provide 20 million meals annually. In 2022, it served more than 11.1 million meals to residents of Benton, Carroll, Madison and Washington counties.

“Even as hard as we’re working and as hard as our partner agencies are working to reduce the number of food insecure, it’s growing as fast as we can keep up with it,” he said. “There’s 70,000 to 75,000 right now who are food insecure in the four-county area. If you double our population, it only stands to reason that we’re going to have twice as many people that we’re going to have to serve in 15 to 20 years.”

Eikenberry said the fundraising campaign is expected to be completed this summer and has reached 95% of its goal. It launched in 2022 with a $25 million goal. He said the hope is to raise about $26.5 million to account for rising inflation and construction costs for the new building. The nonprofit has raised more than $25 million so far.

Kent Eikenberry

Some of the donors include Alice Walton, Laurice Hachem, Tyson Foods, Walmart Foundation and Willard and Pat Walker Charitable Foundation. Also, a recent campaign letter from Eikenberry shows if the food bank raises another $3.7 million, it’ll receive a $2 million challenge grant from the Mabee Foundation.

“That would certainly put us over the top,” Eikenberry said. “We have the money to build the building, but the additional funding will help us make sure we have the most current technology to pull orders (and) to do things like that… We’re also investing in our partner agencies … [And] we’re doing some additional programming ourselves.”

The food bank recently started an order ahead program, allowing people to place online orders to pick up at Feed Rogers at 216 S. 13th St. in Rogers. The food bank program, in partnership with St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church & Society, was established in 2022 and is set up like a small grocery store for recipients to select the food they need without payment.

Eikenberry said the nonprofit also looks to increase the amount of healthy foods it provides, including produce. The goal is that 75% of the food it provides is healthy, such as low-sodium vegetables and fruits packed in their syrups.

Construction is underway on the new building that will be almost four times larger than the existing one at 1378 June Self Drive. The nonprofit is expected to move into the new building in spring 2024. The general contractor is Nabholz, with design and engineering by HFA and ESI, respectively.

Johnelle Hunt donated 12 of the 15 acres on which the new building is being built at Pleasant Grove Road and Honeysuckle Street in north Lowell. The nonprofit purchased the additional 3 acres from Hunt for the 15-acre site. According to Benton County property records, the $104,000 land purchase was completed in November 2021.

“It’s a great location because it’s just a few minutes from the interstate,” Eikenberry said. “The 71B north-south corridor runs right beside our property. [Highway] 265 is a stone’s throw down the road.”

Eikenberry highlighted the new building can accommodate groups of 200 volunteers at a time in a 6,000-square-foot, climate-controlled volunteer center. It will have a protein processing clean room inspected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture that allows the nonprofit to repack bulk foods into family-sized portions and more coolers so it can provide dairy products. Also, it will have more office space for its staff of about 40. According to its 2022 annual report, the nonprofit had 1,664 volunteers work 12,263 hours.

He said the need to move to another location came after the new alignment of Highway 265, which was completed in 2019, affected the nonprofit’s plans for on-site expansion. The new site’s layout allows for the expansion of cold and dry storage if needed.

The Lowell site will be the fourth location for the nonprofit since June Self established the food bank in 1988 in Rogers. The following year, Self opened a food bank on Township Road in Rogers before moving to a two-story building on Second Street in Rogers. In 1993, the existing building was built and expanded to 22,000 square feet in 2011. The nonprofit was rebranded from Ozark Food Bank in 2007.

Eikenberry noted that when he started at the nonprofit it offered three mobile pantries. Now, there are 20 each month. The nonprofit also started to provide food in schools and serves 17 currently.

“We are constantly looking for ways to get food into the hands of people who need it,” he said.

Eikenberry started at the nonprofit seven years ago after spending 42 years in the newspaper business. He’d served as a board member of the nonprofit from 2008 to 2014 before joining as its president and CEO in 2016.

Justin DeLille

The previous year, Eikenberry looked to change his career path as he’d been selling newspaper ads since he was 19. Before joining the food bank, he worked for the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette after it merged with The Morning News. Also, Eikenberry worked for the nonprofit’s chief operating officer, Tom Stallbaumer, who was the publisher of The Morning News and had spent decades in the newspaper business.

“He always says I didn’t admit that he was my boss,” Eikenberry joked. “We work well together.”

Justin DeLille, chairman of the food bank’s board of directors, pointed to the food bank’s leadership when asked about the fundraising campaign’s success.

“I think it all starts at the top with Kent’s leadership,” said DeLille, who’s also general manager of Arkansas Sports Properties. “He’s done a phenomenal job and has guided the food bank through COVID and the capital campaign.”

Asked about the campaign’s long-term impact, DeLille noted the larger facility and footprint and the expansion of the nonprofit’s programming. He added that Eikenberry researched other food banks to determine the best uses for the new building, which also will include a 3,000-square-foot multipurpose room with a teaching kitchen.