Christmas will come early for more than 300 families this week as the Van Buren School District will distribute food boxes through its IMPACT meals program.

Standing for “Meals Provided at Critical Times,” IMPACT targets the food insecurity problem which plagues many families in the region.

The district established the initiative in 2016 as a way to keep children from going hungry over extended holiday breaks.

“More than a quarter of school-aged children in Arkansas suffer from food insecurity. One in four basically,” said IMPACT Director Tom Watkins. “Not all, but many, are struggling very hard due to limited income - many grandchildren being raised by grandparents, many single parent families with little income, etc. Many are simply low-income earners due to a variety of circumstances. The extended breaks and long weekends create a food deficit for these families because the students are not receiving two meals per day during those periods.”

IMPACT provides food boxes during times when school is not in session for a week or more, including Thanksgiving, Christmas and spring break. It recently expanded to include at least one distribution per month. In November, the district gave away 271 bags and Watkins anticipates that closer to 350 will receive food for during winter break.

IMPACT is made possible by the dedicated volunteers who assist with the packing and distribution processes. Individuals from the Freshman Academy, River Valley Virtual Academy, Lady Pointer Basketball team, Prancer Dance Team and the Van Buren Business Council, are among those who have helped prepare for this week’s event.

“In addition to packing boxes, we have had more than 20 volunteers who have participated in the distribution of the meals via the two distribution centers at our service center and at King and Central Elementary,” Watkins said.

Last month, many volunteers, including some VBSD personnel, delivered food to homes of families who did not have transportation. The Boys and Girls Club of Van Buren’s Keystone group will assist with delivery efforts this week.

The program also has benefitted from the generosity of several groups and donors in the community. When word got out about a shortage of one of the program’s staple items - peanut butter - many stepped up to help.

“For about a month, peanut butter disappeared from the food bank’s purchase list and it has become very expensive to buy retail, supposedly due to a bad harvest,” Watkins said. “We need to include it if we can because it is such a good source of protein, and something easy for kids to prepare by themselves.”

The Van Buren Band Program, VBHS Theater Department and the VBHS Mu Alpha Theta chapter have been conducting peanut butter drives, asking parents and students to bring in jars at concerts and other events.

“So far, we have raised about 175 jars, which is almost enough to carry us through February,” Watkins said.

IMPACT is funded primarily by donor dollars and proceeds from the district’s annual Father/Daughter Dance. Individuals and groups can show their support by making a tax-deductible contribution to the program.

To donate or for more information, contact Tom Watkins at (479) 414-8976 or via email at twatkins@cox.net.