“I was hungry and you gave me to eat.”
That Bible verse from Matthew 25:35 is the motto of Grace Community Food Pantry in Helena-West Helena. The food pantry, which had its humble beginnings in the 1980s as the “The Rice Place”, has served as many as 8,732 homes and 21,973 in Phillips County, says Food Pantry volunteer Doris Smith.
“I was hungry and you gave me to eat.” That Bible verse from Matthew 25:35 is the motto of Grace Community Food Pantry in Helena-West Helena. The food pantry, which had its humble beginnings in the 1980s as the “The Rice Place”, has served as many as 8,732 homes and 21,973 in Phillips County, says Food Pantry volunteer Doris Smith. “First Presbyterian Church of Helena started handing out small bags of rice, then added dry beans,” stated Smith. “From this small beginning, one of the largest food pantries in the state evolved.” On Aug. 19, 1997, seven area churches established Grace Community Food Pantry. Since that time other churches and civic groups have joined the mission. “The simple mission is to eliminate hunger in this community,” stated Smith. “The pantry operates on the belief that God has appointed individuals of faith to be His hands and have His heart to care for the hungry and the hurting of the world.” Arkansas has the third highest incidence of hunger in the country. According to a study released in 2005, 291,500 Arkansans depend on six regional food banks for food. Grace Community Food Pantry, located at 520 Walnut St., is open Thursdays from 8 to 11 a.m. It is an all-volunteer organization operated by church and community volunteers. There are no clerical or administrative costs, says Smith. The food pantry has an executive board that meets twice each year. The board, says Smith, is responsible for evaluating the pantry operation and making changes when needed. All monetary contributions are recorded. Grace Community Food Pantry is a non-profit 501C3 organization, making any donation tax deductible. A $10 donation enables the food pantry to buy 55 pounds of food. The food pantry is also involved in the “Feed the Hungry” mission. Ninety percent of the food the food pantry distributes comes from the Arkansas Rice Depot and the Arkansas Foodbank Network in Little Rock. Local individuals, churches, schools civic groups often hold food drives to help stretch the food pantry's food dollar. The pantry has a walk-in freezer and walk-in cooler for storage when food and finances are available. According to Smith, the pantry's food budget in 2011 was $17,000. “With a high rate of diabetes and obesity in the area, our goal has been to serve more nutritious food, while eliminating hunger in our community,” said Smith. “We feel that we have made progress in achieving that goal.” Grace works directly with the Department of Human Services and Mid-Delta Community Services. “DHS communicates to us any changes in welfare reform, food stamps and SSI,” stated Smith. “They also inform us of any delays in a client's benefits in any given month. There is a period within the month when people run out of food stamps. It is during this time that the pantry can be of great help to the hungry.