Generosity is an Ozarks tradition.
It might be as simple as helping a neighbor jump-start her car, or helping the man ahead in the grocery check-out with a few dollars when the cash register total rang up higher than he anticipated.
No, we don’t suggest people in Northwest Arkansas have cornered the market on altruism. We’re not boasting of an Ozarkian exceptionalism that surpasses the rest of our American brothers and sisters. But if one is to believe the altruism that “charity begins at home,” many residents here demonstrate regularly that “home” is more than the roof over their own heads. They extend their compassionate giving to their neighbors.
In places of much abundance, like we have here, one must nonetheless acknowledge it’s possible to get lulled into a false sense that, because so much is going so well, there aren’t neighbors in need. For every six-figure salary, though, there are multitudes who take home much smaller paychecks, ones that may not stretch far enough to pay the bills from week to week, month to month.
But hunger? This is America. We don’t have anyone going hungry, right? We don’t have people living on the financial precipice, unable to know for sure that they’ll eat later today or perhaps tomorrow, do we? Northwest Arkansas, we’ve heard, is the land of milk and honey. The constant messaging for the region says it: This is the place to be, a bountiful land full of opportunity. For many, it proves to be just that.
Such a message has its place. The region is firing on a lot of cylinders and it’s an outstanding place to live. So many blessings, for which a lot of us had the good sense to express our gratitude just a few days ago. But let’s not allow well-crafted promotional pitches designed to draw tourists, attract new companies and grow the workforce to blind us to real and serious needs among our neighbors.
Even when we recognize there is need, it also happens that well-meaning people simply forget to reach out a helping hand. Why do organizations that rely on giving so incessantly contact to potential donors? It’s because even those who want to help have busy lives filled with their own concerns and challenges. They’re compassionate, but it might take a tap on shoulder to remind them to act, right now, on that compassion. Sometimes, “I’ll get to that later” is a barrier that becomes far more permanent than anyone intends.
So this is the time of year this newspaper annually tries to tap, tap, tap people on the shoulder and suggest, with gratitude for the many blessings we have in our region, a way our readers can easily, but meaningfully, contribute to the mighty efforts of helping our neighbors.
It’s called the Community Christmas Card. And who do we send Christmas cards to? Those we care about and for whom we would like to deliver some cheer for the holidays amid hope that it will extend beyond December.
This year, the recipient of money raised through this program will be the Northwest Arkansas Food Bank, where officials anticipate a need to provide 20 million meals a year by 2045.
That number sounds astonishing, doesn’t it? Consider, though, that the food bank provided 11.6 million meals across Benton, Carroll, Madison and Washington counties in 2021. Two years earlier, that number was 8.6 million. This year isn’t done yet, but Kent Eikenberry, the food bank’s president and CEO, said the food bank expects to hit 11.75 million meals for 2022.
Who can be shocked, really? The pandemic scrambled people’s economic lives in many circumstances. And though a lot have recovered from that, current economic conditions aren’t helping to put food on the table. Housing costs soak up too much of many households’ income. Inflation at the grocery stores have whittled away people’s buying power. Stagnant wages are celebrated on Wall Street, but they do little to help the average Arkansan pay utility bills that aren’t getting any smaller, but growing. Putting gas in the tank has gotten a bit cheaper lately, but it’s been a tough year on that count, too.
Going hungry isn’t a choice. It’s just sometimes an unavoidable outcome.
And so we ask you, dear reader, to respond to our little tap on the shoulder for the Northwest Arkansas Food Bank.
Donors may make a gift of any size. Every $3 grants the donor a spot in the Christmas Day edition of the newspaper to have the donor’s name listed or to list a name “in honor of” or “in memory of” someone. The deadline for donations that include names in the paper is Dec. 20, but the newspaper will continue to receive gifts through Dec. 31.
Donations may be made by visiting the newspaper’s website at https://www.nwaonline.com and clicking on “Community Christmas Card” just below the Democrat-Gazette logo. Donors may also send contributions by mail to Community Christmas Card, c/o Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, ATTN: Sandy Robinson, P.O. Box 1607, Fayetteville, AR 72702. If contributing online, list the names in the “Tribute” field for inclusion in the Community Christmas Card. If contributing by mail, please include the list of names to be included in the Christmas Card.
The food bank will receive 100% of the tax-deductible donations.
How will it be used? Collecting, storing and distributing food takes space. Lots of space. In March 2021, the board of the food bank launched a $25 million campaign to build an 82,425-square-foot distribution center in Lowell. It has collected about 90 percent of its goal. Donations to the Community Christmas Card will continue the march toward meeting that need, including the food bank’s work with area agencies that provide direct access to food for those in need and mobile pantries that travel to more rural areas.
The newspaper will provide periodic updates on the fund-raising effort on its front page.
But we know now enough to provide this update: Every dollar will make a difference for the future efforts of the food bank to meet local needs, to aid people in Northwest Arkansas who find themselves in a tough spot.
Hunger is a corrosive condition, eroding one’s capacity to meet life’s opportunities and challenges with a full tank. Making sure Northwest Arkansas succeeds means making sure all its residents are brought along for the journey.
Investing in the future of the Northwest Arkansas Food Bank is an investment in the region whose people have demonstrated strong philanthropy in the past. All we hope the Community Christmas Card can be is a mechanism to make it simple for this newspaper’s readers to demonstrate their generous spirit.
Thank you, in advance, for your gift.