Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield joined Simmons Bank to pack 35,000 meals in a battle to end hunger during their Fearless Food Fight held at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff on Tuesday afternoon.

For nearly seven decades, Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield has worked to meet the needs of Arkansans by providing affordable health insurance coverage and investing in the communities since its founding in 1948, according to the company.

The organization kicked off their soon-to-come 70th anniversary by packing 700,000 meals statewide that will help stock the food banks and pantries in Arkansas and help combat food insecurity.

The meals packed Tuesday consist of cheese, dehydrated vegetables and rice for distribution in the Jefferson County area. Simmons Bank pledged to pack 5,000 of those meals to help area communities.

Curtis Barnett, president and CEO of Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield, opened the ceremony with a few remarks, thanking everyone for their participation and sharing a brief description of what the day is all about.

“Arkansas Blue Cross already supports and will continue to support organizations and programs that address the physical determinants of health,” Barnett said. “And, we want to make a concerted effort to work with others in the state that are committed to helping people have access to nutritious food.”

According to Barnett, one-in-five Arkansans, children and senior adults, struggle with deep hunger. The state ranked second in the number of people effacing food insecurity and ranked fifth in the nation in regards to senior hunger.

Barnett welcomed Simmons Bank Community President Daniel Robinson to speak on behalf of the company.

“First, I want to thank Blue Cross for allowing us to participate in this wonderful initiative,” Robinson said. “And the fact that get to do this in our own town, in our own county and all 35,000 meals stay right here in this community.”

After the sounding of a ceremonial gong, the event began.

The employees worked at different stations where they danced and sang their way through packing the 35,000 meals that will be dispersed to the Salvation Army, Neighbor to Neighbor, and the White Hall Food Pantry. All the while, racing the clock to complete the task between 1:30 and 3 p.m.

Michael Lee, party operations manager at the Pack Shack, guided employees through the process and kept spirits high with plenty of up-tempo music, sing-a-longs and occasional progress reports.

Within the first 30 minutes of the event, employees from both companies had already bagged some 3,000 meals.

Simmons Bank was presented with a token of appreciation, and Barnett closed the event with a few remarks.

“On behalf of Arkansas Blue Cross, I would like to thank Simmons Bank for organizing and hosting this Fearless Food Fight and for all of you volunteers for coming out and helping make a difference in our communities,” Barnett said.

The organization hopes to provide peace of mind to citizens who may not know where they will get their next meal.