Arkansas ranks among the highest in the nation of households facing food insecurity and in the midst of the pandemic, more Arkansans – 160,000 more – are struggling. As the only statewide hunger advocacy organization, Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance utilizes a network of constituents – business leaders, public officials, nonprofit organizations and concerned citizens – all with a finite focus on eliminating food insecurity in Arkansas. As part of this network, Mica Strother and her husband Greg Hale will welcome friends and patrons to Serving Up Solutions later this month.
“We have always been impressed by the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance mission, staff and leadership,” Mica explains. “When Kathy Webb, our dear friend and someone we greatly admire, approached us about chairing Serving Up Solutions – we were thrilled with the opportunity to help.” Mica has worked in politics, government and fundraising most of her career. It’s a path she believes was paved by her childhood as she recognizes the power of community. “My parents were supportive and encouraging, but also challenged us to be our best selves. Their example showed us how to juggle careers, civic service, church involvement and volunteer time.” This is a lesson Mica shares with her son Eli.
Through strategic partnerships, the Alliance effectively reduces hunger and improves access to nutritious food. Sourcing fresh produce – made possible through logistics programs – secures staples that might otherwise not be available at food pantries. This includes Hunger Relief Gardens, like the one at St. Joseph Center of Arkansas, where volunteers cultivate community and seasonal produce. “From Texarkana to Mountain Home, there are 13 Hunger Relief Gardens,” explains Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance Food Sourcing & Logistics Programs Coordinator Brandon Chapman. “Some are vegetable gardens while others, when space permits, are watermelon patches. Regardless of the bounty, it provides healthy options for the hungry Arkansans we serve.” The projects at Western Hills and Stone Links city parks represent a strong and effective collaboration with local municipalities that create measurable results. Collectively – 100,000 pounds of Hunger Relief Garden produce was distributed last year.
“The Alliance was formed with the intention of creating a designated connector for local hunger relief organizations to make progress toward ending hunger more possible – and it has,” Mica notes. The comprehensive, solution-focused approach addresses this most critical issue with sustainable solutions – including coordination with the state’s six Feeding America foodbank partners, increasing statewide participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program as well as the No Kid Hungry campaign, offering educational programming like Cooking Matters and working with Arkansas legislative representatives to advocate for policy change.
Each summer, the Alliance and the Arkansas Legislative Hunger Caucus come together in friendly competition for an evening that celebrates Southern hospitality and the continued commitment to end food insecurity in Arkansas. This year, Serving Up Solutions will feature a VIP reception for sponsors and members of the Arkansas Legislative Hunger Caucus as well as a virtual event for the broader community. As Mica considers the generosity of fellow Arkansans and her family’s legacy – she can’t help but become nostalgic. “There are so many people who I admire who are motivating and inspiring, but my dad had an extra special way of it… I will always try to be the person he believed I could be – making a difference in my little corner of the world by practicing the patience, encouragement and optimism he practiced daily.”