The River Valley Regional Food Bank started a new program in October designed to combat child food insecurity in the River Valley.


The food bank is partnering with AT&T and area law enforcement agencies to distribute Patrol Packs — tote bags of easy-to-prepare grocery items — to carry in their patrol units.


These Patrol Packs will be distributed to children in their respective communities upon the individual department’s discretion. Law enforcement agencies in the area picked up the prepared Patrol Packs on Friday morning at the food bank’s facility, at 1617 S. Zero St., in Fort Smith.


Each food bag contains shelf-stable items like peanut butter, fruit cups, easy-to-prepare rice and soups, quick meal items like cereal and oatmeal, and easy-to-open canned goods and more.


The items were donated by AT&T through its "Believe Arkansas" program to combat hunger. The food bank, along with the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance, and the five other Feeding America food banks in the state, are participating in the program.


Tracy Engel, director of the River Valley Regional Food Bank, said the Patrol Packs will be distributed to area law enforcement agencies, whose officers may pass out the food kits to children they believe face food insecurity while on patrol.


"With COVID-19, domestic violence has increased, more children are being home-schooled, or are latch-key children, and this gift from AT&T will hopefully alleviate some of the stress on the parents or guardians and help the child concentrate on their schoolwork more effectively," Engel said in a news release.


The Patrol Packs will offer some much-needed assistance to the food bank, which is currently experiencing a 50% spike in demand since the COVID-19 pandemic began, the release adds. The food bank is on pace to distribute more than 20 million pounds of food to communities it serves. To date, the food bank has distributed more than 15.6 million pounds to the public. That translates to more than 10.4 million meals provided in the River Valley.


The Feeding America network of 200 food banks across the country has distributed more than 5.2 billion meals to residents across the nation.


The food bank hopes to continue the Patrol Pack program throughout the remainder of the school year.


The River Valley Regional Food Bank is a charitable organization based in Fort Smith and works to alleviate hunger by acquiring and distributing food to people in need. The food bank distributes food to approximately 170 nonprofit food pantries, senior centers, youth shelters and soup kitchens throughout an eight-county region in West Central Arkansas. The food bank distributes more than 12 million pounds of food each year. It is one of 200 national food banks that make up the Feeding America network, and one of Arkansas’s six food banks that are connected through the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance. The food bank is a program of the Crawford-Sebastian Community Development Council.