Little Rock, and Arkansas, have long ranked high in food insecurity, particularly among children. While progress has been made over the last decade, the lack of after school and summer meals, and access to programs that provided meals, continued to be a major issue in the city. In 2018, the City of Little Rock, Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance (Alliance), and the Central Arkansas Library System (CALS) partnered to launch a citywide anti-hunger campaign, Be Mighty Little Rock. Backed by the Board of Directors, Little Rock received a grant from the National League of Cities with funding to implement the campaign. The city board then passed a resolution that designated grant funds and campaign implementation to CALS.
That same year, the city mandated that any entity using city funds to operate youth programs must participate in United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) meal programs. In 2019, Be Mighty staff assisted these organizations with the federal meal program application process. From there, the city and library system envisioned complete meal coverage community-wide. World Central Kitchen and the Clinton Foundation joined Be Mighty partners in 2020 to expand food access for kids and working families that were economically displaced during the pandemic. Despite the onset of the pandemic in March of 2020, children have had access to free meals at eleven CALS branches six days a week, and on Saturdays, they receive two meals.
While CALS has administered the Be Mighty program, it has relied heavily on support from community partners for the program’s success. Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr. noted,
“When entities come together to work strategically, community needs are met, meaning kids and families have access to food, nutrition, benefits, and transportation. Be Mighty is a true example of successful cross-sector collaboration. We are proud to support this work and of the campaign’s successful ability to apply innovative approaches to better meet our community’s needs.”
As the community’s needs have evolved, the campaign’s initial focus on increasing access to federal meal programs quickly grew to include food insecurity screenings and referrals, nutrition education, assistance with benefit applications, and distribution of free bus passes to program participants.
In 2021, Be Mighty added a food insecurity screening and referral to summer programs enrollment processes, more easily linking participants to a list of community resources. The screening tools are available in English and Spanish, and referrals are distributed at events citywide. Additionally, library staff across seven libraries are trained Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (SNAP) Navigators and work closely with the Alliance to host weekly office hours that assist patrons with their applications. To expand patron access to services such as USDA meals and SNAP application assistance, CALS launched the Rides-to-Reads (R2R) program in October of 2021. R2R gives library patrons free monthly bus passes through the local Rock Region METRO. In the first three months, 140 monthly passes were distributed.
Furthermore, Be Mighty established a network of nutrition education programs using a variety of delivery methods and curricula, such as Apple Seed’s Growing My Plate, National Recreation & Park Association’s Commit to Health, and Share Our Strength’s Cooking Matters (CM). The combination of virtual, in-person, and grab-and-go programs increased program accessibility and involvement. The programs meet participants where they are through Zoom and led to piloting multigenerational CM classes with support from the Alliance and Arkansas Children’s Hospital. Be Mighty has even launched over ten hours of self-paced virtual nutrition education, collaborating with 23 facilitators from across CALS and the community.
Be Mighty saw considerable growth in 2021, none of which would be possible without CALS library staff, community partners, and program participants. However, the work is not done. With continued support from resilient partners in 2022, the campaign looks to further strengthen its programs and services, connecting kids and teens throughout the city of Little Rock with resources to Be Mighty.
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About the Author:
Kathy Webb, Board Member, City of Little Rock, AR.