As summer creeps around the corner, Pine Bluff Chamber of Commerce member Wanda Bateman shines her humanitarian light on Jefferson County in hopes to raise cereal and feed children in need with her annual efforts in the Summer Cereal Drive, sponsored by THV Channel 11.
With more than 58 percent of children enrolled in public school relying on free or reduced meals during the schoolyear, most children are forced to deal with hunger or lack of food during the summer months. A problem that through the annual drive, Bateman wishes to dramatically decrease each summer when she lends a hand.
“There’s so many children that are being raised by one parent, or a grandmother, and they have a hard time furnishing or getting them food,” said Bateman, referring to the purpose behind the drive’s efforts.
Member organizations in the Arkansas Food Bank Network team up each year to serve their local communities around the state. In 2017, the Summer Cereal Drive managed to raise a total of 344,000 boxes of cereal which were dispersed to families in need.
The goal for this year’s drive, Bateman announced, is a whopping 500,000 boxes of cereal.
Throughout her 17 years of working alongside THV, Channel 11, which created the program 18 years ago, Bateman has managed to consistently raise the most number of cereal boxes in the state of Arkansas, earning her a spot in the Cereal Bowl at the Cereal Hall of Fame last year.
“I’m very passionate about it,” Bateman revealed. “I love children, and I feel sorry for them.”
Last year, Bateman helped raise 54,022 boxes of cereal for families around Jefferson County.
Bateman encourages anyone who is interested to donate cereal, Cream of Wheat, oatmeal, grits, or Pop-Tarts to Margland Bed and Breakfast, 703 W. 2nd Ave., before the program’s deadline on June 28th.
“A child can get up by himself and either pour the milk or eat it without it,” Bateman went on to explain about the logic behind collecting cereal boxes.
Monetary donations will also be accepted and can be mailed to 703 W. Second Ave. With the help of local grocery stores, one being Save-A-Lot, and Bateman’s willingness to get as many entities onboard, one dollar donations can equal one box of cereal.
Aside from Bateman’s work with the annual summer drive, she partners with local food pantries, daycares, Salvation Army and churches, including St. Mary located on Main Street, to provide families and children with food boxes and meals all year round.
“I would just like to encourage everyone to put it on their heart and think about it,” Bateman said. “We don’t ever know when it will be us and our children who may not have anything to eat … and one box of cereal can make a big difference.”
Bateman also runs a food pantry at Margland Bed and Breakfast where families can discreetly grab food items to cook for their families. These food items are provided by Bateman with some being donated by businesses like Pope Furniture, who contribute to the food pantry every Sunday.
Local families in need can visit the food pantry located behind the bed and breakfast at any time.
“We’ve just got a lot of people in need in Jefferson County,” Bateman said. “We’ve got to all work together and pool our finances or whatever we’ve got to help these kids.”