Four thousand people in the Fort Smith region now have chicken dinners for themselves and their families.
Volunteers on Wednesday morning loaded 160,000 pounds of chicken in 40-pound boxes into cars, trucks and vans that on Wednesday morning lined up outside and inside Kay Rodgers Park during a giveaway following a donation from OK Foods to the River Valley Regional Food Bank. The donation and giveaway were in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak that has caused food shortages, restricted grocery store hours and closed restaurants regionally and throughout the United States.
The giveaway was held 13 days after the River Valley Regional Food Bank gave away 73,000 pounds of chicken to individuals and community partners following a donation from Tyson Foods.
"It’s pretty awesome that people get to come by and get some free food at a time like this, wherever people are," said volunteer Zac Wolfe.
OK Foods administrators got the idea for the giveaway after giving food to all of their employees in the four states they operate in, including Arkansas and Oklahoma. One of the largest poultry production companies in the U.S., OK Foods specializes in providing poultry products to restaurants throughout the world.
CEO Trent Goins said he felt a need to provide food to people in the region who needed it.
"We kind of felt like there were people in our community who needed help also, and as one of the largest employers in Fort Smith, we kind of felt a responsibility to reach out," he said.
The parking lot of Kay Rodgers Park on Wednesday morning consisted of two steady streams of vehicles with their trunks open. The two lines ran through a corridor of volunteers who loaded one box of chicken into the back of each vehicle.
Crawford-Sebastian Community Development Council worker Cathy Allen, who during the giveaway directed vehicles through the parking lot, said the event was supposed to last from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. that day. But at 9:30 a.m., she said she’d be surprised if they got to noon with the number of cars that came through the line.
"If you look at a healthy portion on a plate, that equates to about 320,000 meals that people will be able to take home and prepare for themselves during this worldwide pandemic," Goins said.
Allen also said the giveaway on Wednesday ran "so much smoother" than the one on April 2 at the River Valley Regional Food Bank. The April 2 giveaway clogged the intersection of Zero Street and Jenny Lind Road in all four directions as vehicles waited.
"It was a total shock to all of us," said Allen, adding that Fort Smith and Van Buren police did a good job of directing traffic that morning.
Wolfe said loading chicken into the vehicles was a difficult task. But he also said it was rewarding.
"We’ve got a lot of people out here, and it’s for a good cause," he said. "We’re happy to do it."
"We’re just happy to be able to help our community," Allen said.