Rachel Harless knew she wanted to volunteer with the Arkansas Rice Depot after seeing it featured on the local news.
That was four years ago. Now the 16-year-old devotes time to the organization after school and on the weekends. She labels cans, gives tours, answers phones, teaches other volunteers and delivers food boxes to senior citizens, all to help combat hunger in the state.
“It’s really rewarding,” she says. “You see a change in yourself.” Harless says she has seen how food insecurity affects people through her work at the Rice Depot, and likes that through the organization, everything goes straight to people in need. She recalls once giving a box a food to a small girl: “She looked at me like I was giving her the world,” she says. “I like seeing people happy.”
She says she never realized she would “fall in love with” her volunteer work. Harless says her biggest accomplishment as a volunteer has been organizing food drives, which involves finding a place and getting the word out. This can be challenging for a teen because she says people often don’t “take you seriously.”
Her mom, Gina Harless, says volunteering is important for teenagers: “Some type of community service helps them find themselves and grow.”
Harless, a junior at Parkview Arts Science Magnet High School, hopes to one day be a speech language pathologist. She is a member of the cheerleading squad and has encouraged many of her friends to volunteer for the Rice Depot as well. She also does competitive dance and is Miss White River Outstanding Teen for 2013, and in June, will compete for Miss Arkansas Outstanding Teen. Because of her volunteer work, she says it was easy to choose her platform for the pageants, “Food for Kids – Fighting Childhood Hunger.”
The Arkansas Rice Depot works to alleviate hunger in the state
Recently, Arkansas has tied for first in the nation (19.2%) in food insecurity, “illustrating that the work of Arkansas Rice Depot is more important than ever,” says Vice President Lauren McElroy.
The only statewide food bank in Arkansas, the Rice Depot started in 1982. It now serves 300 food pantries and soup kitchens. In 2011, more than 460,000 Arkansans were served through food pantries in 2011, McElroy says.
Rice Depot programs include Food for Kids, Food for Families, Food for Seniors and Disaster Relief. Food for Kids originated in Arkansas in 1994 and has been replicated nationwide and in Mexico, McElroy says. It was designed to provide food to children having problems in school due to hunger at home. It serves more than 620 schools and 35,000 children statewide, she says. All food and supplies distributed are free.
In November, the Rice Depot is kicking off the Hunger Hero campaign, a monthly giving partner committed to fighting hunger. Those who choose to be a Hunger Hero will receive a free T-shirt as a small thanks, she says. T-shirts may also be purchased on Rice Depot’s website, and proceeds will provide needed food for a hungry child for one month.
For more information, visit www.ricedepot.org.