'No one in Conway County goes hungry'

Story and photos
by Janna Virden

The Conway County Care Center’s mission statement is simple and straightforward: “No One In Conway County Goes Hungry.”

However, to make sure the mission statement becomes a reality, it takes a tremendous amount of effort from the staff of the Care Center plus a community of volunteers to ensure everyone who is in need of food gets it.  

Conway County Department of Human Services Administrator Linda Smith works closely with the Care Center and said, “I thank God every day because we have people in Conway County that support the Care Center.”

The Conway County Care Center was formed in the late 1980s to help address the hunger problem in the area. The Care Center provides food to around 500 people a month, with a third of them children.  Smith, who has been with DHS 39 years and screens clients to make sure they are eligible for services from the Care Center, said the need for supplemental food keeps growing. She said there are many reasons for the increase…one being the high price of food coupled with jobs that only pay minimum wage or low hourly wages.

“It is not that our families don’t work,” she said. “They just make low wages.”  She said after paying for utilities, a car, gas, house payments or rent, there is simply nothing left to pay for food.  She said she gets calls from families at least three times of week who say they have no food to feed their family that night.  

Although the Care Center is not the only source of supplemental food for those in need, it plays a large part in making sure everyone who needs food gets it.  During the month of October, the Care Center asks the community to give as much as they can for the Harvest of Hope food drive.  

Care Center board vice chairman Leann Haynes chaired this year’s food drive — the largest the center has ever had. She said the month culminates with a “fill the truck” day and gospel singing that evening. The drive brought in more than 14,000 items. But even with doubling the amount of food the drive had collected in the past, Haynes said, “The needs keep going up. It’s harder and harder. We run out of food so much quicker.”  

Haynes said the pantry at the Care Center will start running low again by springtime. In order to keep food on the shelves, both Haynes and Smith hope to get churches and other organizations to contribute food on a rotating basis throughout the year. This way the shelves will never be empty.

The center’s efforts have not gone unnoticed. The Harvest of Hope food drive won the Community Project of the Year Award from the Conway County Area Chamber of Commerce for 2014.

The Conway County Care Center is located at 108 West Broadway in Downtown Morrilton.  Hours are 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. The phone number is 501.354.1454.

Is there a way to conquer the food crisis? Smith said education and getting jobs that pay more into the area are keys. She wishes she could find a way to bring food prices down, but just doesn’t know how.  However, there is one thing she knows for certain. When Smith sends someone to the Conway County Care Center, she knows, “They don’t go out the door empty-handed.” They get help.