McCRORY – A small Arkansas delta town where more than a fifth of its population is a client of the local food pantry, is embarking on an effort to ease its people’s hunger and help energize its economy.


McCrory is one of 16 towns nationwide selected for the Local Foods, Local Places technical assistance program and will begin its effort June 12-13 with a public workshop to gain local input to guide the initiative.


“I assumed there wasn’t much hunger in our community,” said Leigh Ann Bullington, Woodruff County extension staff chair for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture. “I was wrong.”


Bullington is involved in the Warehouse – a food pantry that also serves as a place for neighbors to get simple health screenings and enable them to learn and take part in services and aids to help them live healthier lives.


“We’ve had 375 clients at the Warehouse since it opened its doors in McCrory last July,” she said. “That translates to a little over 20 percent of the population in a community that continues to lose population.”


Many of the clients are elderly and while they could qualify for SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, “for a lot of them, it’s just too much to deal with to get $13 a month in benefits – that’s all some of the Warehouse clients could qualify for.”


For many of them, “it’s a decision they have to make – am I going to get my medicine or am I going to eat today,” Bullington said.


Looking toward brighter days


However, there is help. A coalition that includes the Cooperative Extension Service, is already working under a federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention grant to improve access to fitness opportunities such as walking trails.


The Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Delta Regional Authority and the CDC selected McCrory for the Local Foods, Local Places technical assistance program, which will result in an action plan for strengthening the local food economy.


“This announcement is so very exciting for McCrory. Our community can definitely benefit from this Local Foods Local Places Initiative,” said Beth Breckenridge, McCrory Market president of Merchants and Planters Bank.


Breckenridge is also a steering committee member. “I encourage the town to come out and have a voice in the June 12 community meeting.”


Getting started


The workshop will include presentations on community livability and the roles that local foods play in supporting it, plus small group activities and discussions on the community’s vision and goals, and specific actions for reaching them. The workshop will lay out an action plan for moving forward.


Who: Stakeholders and community leaders, local residents, and elected officials; along with representatives of EPA, USDA, other federal agencies and contractors from EPR and 3TP Venture, which are facilitating the effort.


What: Discussions on local foods and community livability, group work sessions, and networking that will result in a Community Action Plan.


June 12 – 6–8 p.m. at The Warehouse at the Chappell Civic Center, 103 North Edmonds at McCrory. Food will be served beginning at 5:30 p.m. and the meeting starts at 6 p.m.


June 13 - Action Planning Work Sessions – 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. at The Warehouse at the Chappell Civic Center at McCrory.


Participants are asked to RSVP to Leigh Ann Bullington, University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service, 870-347-2556 or lbullington@uaex.edu .


For more information about Local Foods, Local Places, visit https://www.epa.gov/smartgrowth/local-foods-local-places .


For more information about LFLP communities selected in 2018: https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2018-05/documents/2018_summary_report_05-21-18-508.pdf .


To learn more about the Cooperative Extension Service and its community development and consumer help, contact ar county extension office or visit www.uaex.edu.


The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture offers all its Extension and Research programs and services without discrmination.


— Mary Hightower is director of Communication Services at the U of A System Division of Agriculture.