Fishnet Missions food pantry in Jacksonville marked its 20th year on Thursday helping to feed the hungry in the area since 1994.
Dewey and Barbara Sims opened the food pantry in a small local church. They, with an army of volunteers, helped 70 people when it first opened. Over the years Fishnet Missions has expanded to keep up with demand with its warehouse on 1700 Swift Drive.
The food pantry is open from 6:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. Tuesday and Thursday. Every Saturday morning Fishnet Missions serves 200 meals to the homeless at the Broadway Bridge in North Little Rock.
According to Dewey Sims, this week Fishnet Missions served 1,400 people. This month Fishnet has helped 10,000 people. The pantry feeds the homeless and works with churches to provide food to those in need. Fishnet also delivers food to seniors.
“It is harder to keep food. There are 375,000 pounds of food in the building. Food is tight. We need all the help we can get,” Dewey Sims said.
Fishnet Missions has no paid employees. The nonprofit receives donated, surplus and salvage food from the Arkansas Foodbank, Potluck, local restaurants and farmers. They store perishable meats, fruits and vegetables and dairy products in refrigerators and freezers.
Barbara Sims thanks the volunteers and her husband for not giving up on the food pantry.
The pantry averages 45 volunteers a day.
“People are not working here in the 100-degree weather for nothing,” Dewey Sims said.
Fishnet Missions delivers food weekly to 820 seniors in Jacksonville, Sherwood, Cabot, Austin and Ward.
Volunteer Joyce Henley of Sherwood has been with Fishnet Missions since the first day it opened.
“It takes all of us volunteering to make it work. I’m proud to be with Fishnet through all these years. There is such a need,” Henley said.
Henley recalled one year Santa made a stop at Fishnet Missions.
“A girl had a choice of toys or food. She chose a head a cabbage. That just about killed me,” Henley said.
The girl was still given a bag of toys, Henley said.
Colleen Clendenin of Jacksonville has been volunteering at Fishnet Missions for 14 years. Clendenin retired as a nurse from the veteran’s hospital. Volunteering was something for her to do.
“It’s self-satisfying, and I like helping people,” Clendenin said.
Clendenin has noticed over the years that more people are coming for assistance, many are elderly.
“The older ones are so proud that they don’t want help,” Clendenin said.
Clendenin said she reassures seniors that there is no shame with asking for help.
Many of the young volunteers at Fishnet Missions are home-schooled students.
“We hear about it, and we wanted to show people that others do care for them. We fell in love with it and kept coming,” Jordan Lindner, 13, of Cabot said.
Fishnet Missions also has a thrift store next door. Its proceeds support the food bank.
Marlis Wheeler of Jacksonville has worked with Fishnet Missions for 18 years.
“The thrift store was able to grow with donations because people know where the money is going. They could donate anywhere, and they choose here. It says a lot about Fishnet Missions,” Wheeler said.