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story.lead_photo.caption The Project HOPE Food Bank recently received a $2,500 grant from the Hot Springs Area Community Foundation to help serve the growing number of children facing food insecurity in the community. With Ted Thompson, left, director of Project HOPE Food Bank, is Joyce Whitfield, HSACF executive director. - Submitted photo

The Project HOPE Food Bank recently received a $2,500 grant from the Hot Springs Area Community Foundation to help serve the growing number of children facing food insecurity in the community.

In 2018, 35% of children in Garland County were living in poverty and at a higher risk of food insecurity, according to the USDA.gov website. "This percentage has no doubt risen since the pandemic began and, in time, will show that many more children are at a higher risk of hunger," a news release said.

Since 1991, the Hot Springs Area affiliate of the Arkansas Community Foundation has been working to serve as a vehicle for helping individuals, firms, and organizations in the Garland County area, the release said.

"When told about the immediate need for additional support, our local board of directors stepped forward with funds to assist the backpack program for the Garland County schools," Joyce Whitfield, HSACF executive director, said in the release.

The Food Bank's School Backpack Program has grown due to the number of families impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2019, the program distributed 112,000 pounds of food, providing 200,000 meals to food-insecure children. Through September of this year, the program has already distributed 140,000 pounds of food, an increase of 72% in just one year, to roughly 1,000 children, at a cost of $134,000.

By year-end, distribution is projected to reach 200,000 pounds of food.

"The program is expensive to maintain because of the large number of children facing hunger and the rising cost of nutritious food, which must be easily prepared or readily consumable, yet individually packaged and light enough for young children to carry in addition to schoolbooks," Ted Thompson, director of the food bank, said in the release.

"Project HOPE sincerely appreciates the support of the Hot Springs Area Arkansas Community Foundation and feels the program funding will have a positive impact on the lives of many children. The program goal is to allow children the extra nutrition needed to maintain basic health and well-being, providing an equal opportunity for success as their well-fed counterparts," the release said.

Donations can be made online at http://www.projecthopefoodbank.org or mailed to 915-B Gaines Ave., Hot Springs AR 71901.

Project HOPE Food Bank is a nonprofit organization. Volunteers help in the daily operations, the warehouse is donated, and the equipment has been obtained through grants, thus allowing the food bank to use 96% of each donation to purchase food.

"Every donation makes an impact, and your gift partnered with the food bank's resources can provide help to many children," the release said.

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