Friday, November 25, 2011

TOP STORY > >Economy skyrockets hunger demands

Special to The Leader

Going without meat at suppertime may become a new reality for the working poor, who are just above the poverty level but cannot qualify for food stamps.

“We haven’t been able to give out any meat items for the past six weeks,” said Dewey Sims of Fishnet Missions, an all-volunteer nonprofit organization based in Jacksonville.

“Food and monetary donations are down right now, and meat items are nonexistent. In all of my 17 years here, this is the tightest I’ve ever seen it. The demand is up at least by 30 percent and we are in need of the public’s help,” he said.

Times are so tough that Sims’ only hope is to rely on deer hunters’ generosity and Hogg’s Meat Market in North Little Rock, owned by Mike and Peggy Hogg. The shop will process donated deer meat and take it to Fishnet.

“At our doorstep on each Tuesday and Thursday, we are having in the excess of 500 families show up,” Sims said. “And this does not include all the senior citizens and shut-ins and the seven churches we furnish food to.”

In October, Fishnet volunteers gave out more than 39 tons of food. Sims hopes hunters will donate for families in need this winter. For months now, long lines of people — the newly unemployed, the homeless, families and unemployed people whose benefits have been exhausted but are still without work — form along Swift Street just off Marshall Road in Jacksonville to receive free food from volunteers who stay extremely busy sacking up one bag after another as fast as they can.

“It’s a little scary. I’m hustling every day just trying to keep up with the demand brought on,” Sims said.

Saturday mornings, volunteers provide food, socks, blankets and other items to homeless people living under a bridge near the Arkansas River in downtown Little Rock.

“We average about 150 people there each Saturday,” Sims said.

One would think that Fishnet Missions may be stretched to the limit, but Sims is driven to do more. The organization also supports three soup kitchens. The group provides food to area churches’ soup kitchens as well as its own soup kitchen. Fishnet gives a free hot meal to anyone showing up at 6 p.m. Tuesdays.

“There’s no qualifying, no restrictions, and you don’t even have to have any identification,” Sims said.

And with Christmas just around the corner, Fishnet has scheduled a visit from Santa Claus for the children caught up in the “drastic downturned economy,” Sims said.

The event will begin at 7:30 a.m. Wednesday, Dec. 21. As in the past, children will receive a toy of their choice.

“Last year, we gave out about 1,700 toys, and I expect to see an increase in toys that we’ll be giving out this year,” Sims said. “And we’re really in need of new toys.”