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By Brittany Williams

Staff Writer

South Arkansas Community College is starting a new “Little Free Pantries” program this spring to provide for students who don’t have enough to eat.

“Community service is a component of our strategic plan,” said Dr. Barbara Jones, college president. “The concept is that we’re going to pilot it this spring. We’re going to have four locations on campus. We’re actually going to put the little food pantries in a newspaper rack.”

At a recent Board of Trustees meeting, Student Success Services Director Vanessa Williams said the pantries would cater all students, particularly to the college’s biggest student population — women. Almost 70 percent of students enrolled last fall were female, according to SouthArk’s 2016-2017 Fact Book.

“The idea is to support our students who don’t have enough to eat. A lot of our people in Union County are living below poverty. A lot of them are female and most of our students are female so we want to support them … We’re asking for food donations. We’re also asking for toiletries, personal items, things of that nature.”

Jones said Williams is working with business instructor Donna Hendricks on the campuswide community service project. Board trustee Kermit Parks mentioned that North Arkansas Community College has a similar program and recommended that organizers consult them.

Hendricks is an advisor the SouthArk chapter of Phi Beta Lambda that was awarded on the national level for its Career Closet, according to a previous News-Times report.

Because the pantries are part of a campuswide initiative, Williams is encouraging SouthArk instructors to donate and integrate the mission of the pantries into classroom discussions that address issues like poverty and hunger.

“Our plan is to have what we call ‘little free pantries’ that look similar to the book exchange that’s downtown in front of PJs. We’re going to have a contest and have our students design that. We do have some requirements as to what has to be on the little free pantries.”

At the board meeting, it was announced that the El Dorado News-Times is donating four used newspaper racks to the cause.

“The News-Times is more than happy to help out with this worthwhile effort to make sure students in need get the nourishment they need,” said News-Times General Manager Ronnie Bell. “We applaud those at SouthArk who came up with the idea to serve fellow students and we encourage the entire community to help the effort along with contributions from their own home pantries.”

Physical Plant staff will prep them for a new paint job before they are painted and placed near student lounges. There will be three little pantries on the West Campus and one located on the East Campus, Jones said.

“We’ll see where the need is, how fast the food turns over, what types of things are needed, monitor that and if there’s more, we’ll expand it,” the college president said. “I think sometimes we don’t realize what our students face, trying to balance budget or what little money to feed themselves and their children and go to school. We’re trying to help that need.”

Donations will also be housed in the PBL Career Closet so the college can have “a fully stocked pantry over there,” Williams said.

“With the career closet, we’re trying to build that up (for) students who need to prepare for interviews, who don’t have the clothing (or) who don’t know how to dress,” the student success director said. “We’re in a process to take care of that, too. Those who need haircuts, who need some makeup tips, whatever they need, we’re working with Cosmetology. They’re going to help us with that.”

The SouthArk Board of Trustees’ next meeting is scheduled at 3:45 p.m. Jan. 16 in the administrative office boardroom, located on the west campus.

For more information about SouthArk’s Little Free Pantries, contact Vanessa Williams at 870-875-7235 or

Brittany Williams may be reached at 870-862-6611 or Follow her on Twitter and like her on Facebook @BWilliamsEDNT for updates on Union County school news.

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