By Mandy Stanage Shoptaw | Photography by Sarah Oden | Shot on location at the home of Sharon & Johnny Bale
For nearly two decades, Empty Bowls has helped Arkansas Foodbank fill hungry bellies in our state. This year, the event chairs are three powerhouse women, all sisters. Allison Waldrip Bragg, Katie Waldrip Branscum and Lauren Waldrip Ward remember driving through the long rows of crops at their family’s farm. Lauren recalls of their childhood, “My sisters and I grew up watching field-to-table come full circle. Although we live on some of the most productive land in the country, Arkansas still has the second highest level of food insecurity in the nation.”
Lauren’s sister Allison continues, “Growing up in Lee County, we saw firsthand the effects of food insecurity. Rural Arkansans often have very few options for nutritious food sources. Many small towns in the Delta are food deserts with little access to fresh produce. This is especially difficult for children.” The Foodbank serves 33 Arkansas counties and 280,000 clients annually – 33% are children. Not surprising, the most requested items for donation are peanut butter, pasta and pasta sauce, cereal and fruit juices.
“When our neighbors are hungry, our economy is hungry and the supplemental nutrition provided by the Arkansas Foodbank reduces hunger pangs felt by those neighbors and their surrounding communities,” says Katie. “Foodbanks not only mitigate food insecurity, they tap into resources that allow struggling individuals to feed their appetite to participate in a meaningful way.”
As Executive Director of the Arkansas Rice Federation, Lauren’s role in alleviating food insecurity in Arkansas is two fold. “I take pride in a job that enables me to work with the Arkansans who provide a quality food source in a sustainable way. I do not take for granted the capacity I have through the Arkansas Rice Federation to help promote this industry by working with rural communities and organizations like the Arkansas Foodbank. These strategic relationships can help raise awareness in a way that ultimately benefits the state as a whole.” She notes that the Foodbank relies on a network of community partners such as faith-based food pantries and businesses like Riceland Foods that generously give.
This year’s Empty Bowls honoree is Riceland Foods Vice President of Marketing & Strategy Ben Noble. Arkansas Foodbank CEO Rhonda Sanders elaborates, “In his leadership role at Riceland, Ben is further advancing the cause of hunger in Arkansas by developing programming that promotes good nutrition and the expansion of the rice community’s efforts to feed hungry people across the state.”
Another important highlight of the evening is the “Feed the Need” initiative that supports the Arkansas Foodbank Capital Campaign: Bridging Hope. Considering her family’s commitment to the Arkansas Foodbank and Empty Bowls, Lauren says, “It enables us to play a very small role in alleviating hunger among our neighbors.”