Nothing says "I care" like a frozen turkey. At least, that's what Bailey Higginbotham believes.
Higginbotham recently stocked the free little food pantry box at 100 Cooper Road in Bella Vista with a frozen turkey and all the fixings for a Christmas dinner. She wasn't looking for recognition. In fact, when contacted, Higginbotham says she didn't want the light to shine on her efforts. She simply wanted to give to others and hopes more people will learn about the little food pantry.
"My family came from very poor and humble beginnings," she says. Now that her family is doing much better, it's been ingrained in her "that when you have more than you need, it's much better to extend the table for more than build a wall. We all win that way," she says.
Higginbotham became involved in donating goods when she happened to notice the food pantry box. She doesn't live that far away, and once she learned about the idea, she began donating items. The food pantry box located in the United Lutheran Church's parking lot works on an as-needed basis. Anyone interested is welcome to donate canned goods and, generally, non-perishable food items, like basics such as tuna, noodles, canned vegetables and soup.
The idea is that anyone who then needs a hand up can access the food pantry box. Most surrounding communities have similar pantry boxes. The idea -- "take what you need" -- is the premise. Folks who need a little extra can quietly take "what they need" and maintain their dignity.
To fill the pantry, people who donate are asked to bring non-perishable food items, personal hygiene items, hats and gloves, according to information provided by the United Lutheran Church. Should donating people find that the pantry is too full to leave the items, items may be left in the "Little Pantry" bin in the church narthex.
The response from the community this year has been heartwarming, says Joyce Jebsen, who oversees social ministries and outreach at the church. The project is something that custodian Jeff Peleaux has taken under his wing, she says. He keeps the pantry box stocked and oversees the donations church members bring. But so many neighbors and other friends have stocked the pantry box this year, he hasn't had to stock it for the past three months, Jebsen says.
"The exciting part is that this is reaching out in the community, both the receiving and the giving," Jebsen says. While church members generally donate staples, neighbors and other friends sometimes donate items that small children might enjoy, such as treats. People have really stepped up in the past year to donate, she says. "More and more people have started watching it," she says, and donating items that will help others. "It's been a blessing and this year, so many people have donated," she says. "It shows what a need there is," she says.
Higginbotham believes the pantry box is badly needed. She bases this on checking the pantry once or twice a week and filling it when she can. "Some days it can be empty and my family will fill it, then four to five hours later, it's empty again. That's how you know there is a need," she says.
Higginbotham felt compelled to donate a frozen turkey, to help out another family. "I only put meat in there when the temperature outside would match the fridge or freezer," she says. "We ended up with two turkeys, and with covid, we only need one small one since the family couldn't come over," she says. "I just figured another family could make better use of it than sitting in our freezer."
People are struggling, and Higginbotham believes more people will help out once they learn about the project.
"They say it takes a village -- Bella Vista is my village. These are our brothers and sisters, neighbors and friends," she says. "If we all do just a little when we can, we will all come out on top."
Among other churches and organizations providing food are:
Senior Center Pantry -- The mobile food pantry at the Billy V. Hall Senior Activity Center in Gravette is held on the fourth Tuesday of each month, beginning at 10 a.m. Those interested are advised to arrive no later than 11 a.m. Food boxes are available for curbside pickup. Information: Melissa Provence, (479) 787-5950.
First Baptist Church Pantry -- First Baptist Church, located at 213 E. Roller Ave. in Decatur, holds a community food pantry on the second and fourth Wednesdays of the month, from 3:30 to 5 p.m. Information: (479) 282-6658.
GFA Pantry -- GFA Pantry Inc. at the Gentry Assembly, 821 E. Main St., is open from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on Tuesdays. The pantry is drive-through only during the covid-19 pandemic. Information: Clients are asked to call (662) 727-5157 or email [email protected] for appointments.
Shepherd's Food Pantry -- Located at Bella Vista Lutheran Church, 1990 Forest Hills Blvd., the pantry is open every Friday from 10 a.m. until noon. This is a "drive-by" pantry, so please wear your mask. Information: (479) 855-0272, bvlutheran.com.
Unity Church of the Ozarks -- A Little Free Pantry stands by the front door of the church at 2200 S.E. J St. in Bentonville. Please help yourself when needed and help others by donating. Information: (479) 721-2752, unityozarks.org.
The Oasis Food Pantry -- Located at Village Bible Church in Bella Vista, 1591 Forest Hills Blvd., the pantry is open each Wednesday from 10 a.m. to noon for drive-through pickup. Information: (479) 876-5764, villagebibleefc.org.
First Presbyterian Church Pantry -- Located at 901 N.E. J St., the pantry is operating as a drive-through from 9 to 11 a.m. Saturdays. Please bring something (utility bill, etc.) that shows that you are a resident of Benton County, and the church is glad to serve you. Information: (479) 273-5450, fpcbentonville.org.
Please send information about your church or neighborhood pantry to Becca Martin-Brown, Features editor, at [email protected] We'll keep this list going as needed in 2021.