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story.lead_photo.caption Dustin and Bobbi McDaniel are co-chairmen of the 2019 Serving Up Solutions fundraiser for the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance, scheduled for Thursday at the Albert Pike Masonic Center in Little Rock. - Photo by Sean Clancy

Excuse me, senator, we need some more bread over here. And could I have another water, please?

Those requests won't seem odd on Thursday during Serving Up Solutions, the annual fundraiser for the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance that uses state legislators to serve dinner and raise money to fight food insecurity in the state. It takes place 6-8:30 p.m. at the Albert Pike Masonic Center, 712 Scott St. in Little Rock.

Former state Attorney General Dustin McDaniel and his wife, Bobbi, are this year's co-chairmen.

"This is an example of what public service ought to be," says Dustin of the bipartisan nature of Serving Up Solutions, when members of the Arkansas Legislative Hunger Caucus hustle to serve a four-course meal prepared by Matt Bell of South on Main; Capi Peck of Trio's Restaurant; Mary Beth Ringgold of Caper's Restaurant and Copper Grill; and Rosalia Monroe of Cafe Bossa Nova. "You see Democrats and Republicans from all over the state serving one another and serving their fellow man and trying to address the hunger issues in their districts."

Of course, there's still a little competition involved. Tips raised by the legislators will also go to the alliance, and the person with the largest amount earns bragging rights and -- new this year -- a silver platter.

"They will get their name engraved on it and it is their trophy for the year," Bobbi says. "They will be able to present it to the winner next year. It gives it a little more validity and fun."

Having the lawmakers participate also helps spread the message of helping the hungry, Dustin says.

"People love having the speaker of the house serve them dessert. It's a unique thing, but even more important is that the direct involvement of those legislators increases their own level of activity and concern for the food banks in their districts and food insecurity issues in their home areas. When the [next] legislative session rolls around, they will be aware of how their budgeting and policy decisions will [affect] literally hundreds of thousands of families who are in some level of food insecurity."

There will be a live auction and a silent auction, and Sen. Bruce Maloch, D-Magnolia, returns this year to bang the gavel and holler "Sold!"

"Ever since Serving Up Solutions started, I've been the auctioneer," he says, adding that he has also served tables at the event in the past. "It's a lot of fun. Each legislator is assigned a table and they are there to wait on you at your beck and call. There's a tip jar and there is some good-natured ribbing."

Grants from the alliance have helped with programs in his district in the southern part of the state, he says.

"This past year I supported a summer feeding program in Sheridan with Hunters Feeding the Hungry and the United Methodist Church. It's a real issue, and the hunger relief alliance has done great work."

Last year's event raised a record $130,500, says Amy Bell, the alliance's communications director. They hope to top that number Thursday, she adds.

The hunger alliance was formed in 2004 and includes the Arkansas Foodbank, Food Bank of North Central Arkansas, Food Bank of Northeast Arkansas, Harvest Regional Food Bank, River Valley Regional Food Bank and the Northwest Arkansas Food Bank.

"[Executive Director Kathy Webb] saw an opportunity to take a holistic approach toward fighting hunger in the state, rather than just focusing on emergency food assistance, and finding ways to connect people in need with food sources," Bell says.

Bell says the flooding here will have even more Arkansans needing help to put food on the table.

"With the amount of families that are being displaced from their homes by the flooding ... not just this week, but six months from now, there will be people who have never used the services of a food pantry or a food bank that will need help."

Among the alliance's programs to combat hunger are the No Kid Hungry campaign; the Arkansas Beef Project, which works with state cattlemen; and the Arkansas Gleaning Project.

The latter program, which the alliance runs with the Society of St. Andrew, secures surplus crops from farmers and distributes them to food banks and pantries.

"Often with food pantries and food banks they spend less of their budget on perishable items like fresh produce," says Bell, who co-owns South on Main with her husband, Matt. "This program allows food pantries to get fresh produce without having to spend their dollars on it. Since its inception in 2008, we have gleaned 11.5 million pounds of produce."

The Bells have also taught in the alliance's Cooking Matters program, which teaches participants how to cook healthy meals.

"It's such a valuable tool, and it gives people confidence to be able to help themselves and by cooking nutritious meals at home," Amy Bell says.

Knowing the money they have helped raise will go to feed people who are hungry is satisfying, Bobbi says. "It's great to see your hard work and everything else come together and be successful."

Dustin recalls busy days at his Little Rock law firm and then having to meet about Serving Up Solutions planning.

"I would shake my head and think, 'I don't have time for this today,'" he says. "But then you remember why you're doing it. You remember what the money will be used for. There are some heartwarming stories, but there are some that are hard to listen to. Six months from now, being reminded of those stories and things the alliance would not have been able to do if not for this annual event, that's what I'm looking forward to."

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Photo by Sean Clancy
Dustin and Bobbi McDaniel with their dog, Bella, take a break from their jobs as co-chairmen of Serving Up Solutions, a fundraiser for the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance.

High Profile on 06/09/2019

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