As the summer of 2016 unfolded, two Drew County charities found themselves struggling to help those in need.

The Drew County Salvation Army’s leader married and moved away, leaving the local organization without leadership. The Advisory Council disbanded.

Another local organization, the First Presbyterian Church (FPC) Feed the Kids program, did not have funds to provide for all their clients. The board of directors agreed to continue to feed as many children as possible on its limited funding.

“The Salvation Army had funds with no volunteers and FPC’s Feed the Kids program had an active board but needed a funding mechanism,” said Arlene Russell, an original member of the Drew County Salvation Army. “The outlook for both charities looked bleak in late August.”

The Drew County Salvation Army was formed in 1999. There are only three original Advisory Council members who remain active today and have shepherded the local chapter since its inception. The service unit primarily provides utility assistance to those in need. The original council members include Arlene Russell, Pat Johnston, and Linda Magness. The council attempted to reorganize and recruit new volunteers to continue providing utility assistance. Unfortunately, the efforts were met with little success.

A short time ago, a conversation between Russell and Tricia Nicholson, an FPC Feed the Kids board member occurred after a Mass. After visiting, an idea came about that would allow both agencies to continue their mission of helping those in need. Russell wanted her Confirmation Class to help the Feed the Kids program pack food. Nicholson told her funds were low and no assistance was needed at that time.

“In that moment, I knew the Salvation Army could help feed hungry children in our community in lieu of utility assistance as there are other options for help with utility payments,” Russell said, explaining the there currently is a federal program operated through Community Action Agency that helps with utilities. “We had funding still available and the FPC Feed the Children program had a volunteer board without funds. It seemed to be a God sent solution that provided both organizations with what was needed to do the most good in our community.”

At a meeting in late September, the Salvation Army of Drew County and the First Presbyterian Church’s Feed the Children program decided a partnership would do the most good for the community. Tears of joy from members of both organizations accompanied the announcement of the partnership.

The Feed the Kids program started with eight children in the Fall of 2006 at Drew County Elementary School as a test to see if there were indeed hungry children in the community, according to Allison Collins, who chairs the program today. In Arkansas, one in four children are food insecure.

Today, the Feed the Kids program feeds 150 children in both Monticello and Drew County Schools. Snack packs are delivered to the respective schools each week which are then distributed to the children. Pre-K through 8th grade children is the target. The children are referred by teachers, counselors, principals and the students themselves. “We do not know names or races, and only a few stories. We do know that these kids are hungry and we can help in some small way,” said Collins and Nicholson.

The snack packs are kid friendly, nutritious and easily opened. The packs include two main meals, two breakfasts, one snack, two fruits, one dessert and one drink. Additionally, as funds are available, a New Testament Bible will be included. Most items are purchased in bulk from Sam’s Club and Save-A-Lot. The cost of one snack pack is $7. Snack packs are packaged the first Wednesday of each month at 6 p.m. in the Fellowship Hall of the First Presbyterian Church in Monticello with the assistance of local churches and community organizations.

Members of the Drew County Salvation Army Advisory Council and First Presbyterian’s Feed the Kids include Allison Collins, president; Ember Davis, secretary; and Linda Magness, treasurer. Joe Finley serves as the Salvation Army liaison. Other board members include Lori Fallon, Bonnie Hicks, Renee Holland, Tricia Nicholson and Dr. Julia Nicholson.

For more information, contact Allison Collins at 870-367-2987.

The photo above shows volunteers packing meal packs for children.

About The Salvation Army:
The Salvation Army, an evangelical part of the universal Christian church established in 1865, has been supporting those in need in His name without discrimination for 130 years in the United States. Nearly 30 million Americans receive assistance from The Salvation Army each year through the broadest array of social services that range from providing food for the hungry, relief for disaster victims, assistance for the disabled, outreach to the elderly and ill, clothing and shelter to the homeless and opportunities for underprivileged children. 82 cents of every dollar spent is used to carry out those services in 5,000 communities nationwide. For more information, go to salvationarmyusa.org.