Jefferson County residents helped exceed the region’s goal of collecting 60,000 boxes of cereal before last Thursday’s deadline for the THV Channel 11-sponsored Summer Cereal Drive.

Wanda Bateman, head of the cereal drive’s Jefferson County operations, began accepting donations at Margland Bed and Breakfast early last month. With Bateman consistently raising the most number of cereal boxes each year, the pressure was on to keep the giving spirits just as high this year.

Throughout the drive’s lifespan, people were encouraged to donate boxes of cereal, pop-tarts, cream of wheat, grits and oatmeal to be distributed to families in need around Jefferson County. For those who preferred to give in the form of monetary donations, their funds were turned into boxes of cereal that Bateman was able to receive for $1 per box.

The Summer Cereal Drive was created with the intent to help fight childhood hunger in the community. With 58 percent of local children benefitting from free or reduced lunch during the school year, many are left with little to no food in the summer. The idea behind choosing cereal boxes as the focus of the drive stemmed from the impression that children could eat it with or without milk, and it is something that can be fixed without the help of an adult.

Over the years, Bateman has seen a considerable amount of success with her self-proclaimed persistence in scoring money-saving cereal deals with grocers like Super 1 Foods and Save-A-Lot.

Coming into this year’s Summer Cereal Drive, Bateman was set on beating her previous 54,022 cereal box collection and raising more than 5,000 additional boxes by the time the drive ended.

Although official results for the 18th annual cereal drive will be announced Thursday, July 12, on THV Channel 11 at 5 a.m., Bateman revealed that Jefferson County surpassed their goal of raising 60,000 boxes of cereal by 5,000.

“I asked everybody I saw,” Bateman said. “So many people came.”

Bateman mentioned that several people reached out to her at the last minute about donating money and cereal, which helped to secure additional cereal boxes. Among those who donated to the drive were: Southeast Arkansas Behavioral, Pine Bluff Police Department along with their Police P.A.Y. Camp, Pine Bluff Wastewater Utility, Pine Bluff Chamber of Commerce, Mondi Bags, the Arkansas Department of Correction, several churches, and Pine Bluff Mayor Shirley Washington.

“All I can say is we had a tremendous year,” Bateman said. “Everyone was so generous and so caring.”

Bateman said she is thankful that people responded so positively to the cause and is even receiving recognition for her efforts in the Summer Cereal Drive outside of Pine Bluff.

“We were at a restaurant last weekend, and a man came up to me and was like ‘you’re the cereal lady,’” Bateman said.