Arkansas Rice Companies Partner With Full Circle Food Pantry

Bumpers College interim Dean Jean-Francois Meullenet (far left) with two student volunteers, Katelyn Helberg and Caroline Wilson, and Nathan McKinney, associate vice president of the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station, for the intake of rice donations to the pantry.
Karli Yarber

Bumpers College interim Dean Jean-Francois Meullenet (far left) with two student volunteers, Katelyn Helberg and Caroline Wilson, and Nathan McKinney, associate vice president of the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station, for the intake of rice donations to the pantry.

In 2023, three Arkansas-based rice companies helped address food insecurity on campus by donating more than 1,200 pounds of rice to the U of A's Jane B. Gearhart Full Circle Food Pantry. 

Cormier Rice Milling Co., Riceland and Producers Rice Mill donated to the food pantry and pledged to donate even more. Cormier recently sent 625 pounds to Fayetteville while Riceland and Producers sent 200 pounds each, with more to follow.

Caroline Wilson, the chair for Full Circle Food Pantry, emphasized the needs of the pantry, specifically with rice. She noted how demand for rice means it goes quickly at the pantry.

"Rice is a staple crop and food that so many people use every single day," Wilson said. "We have a lot of international students on campus who are clients at our pantry because, for international students, we are the only food resource that they are allowed to use. Most food assistance programs are limited to U.S. citizens only. For our international clients, this is literally their only option." 

Wilson also explained that international students at the U of A on a VISA struggle even more because they legally cannot work more than 20 hours weekly. This creates strain on their finances and the ability to afford groceries and other essentials. 

"It's really important for us to provide foods that are used daily in peoples' diets," she said. "The rice on our shelves right now may look like a lot, but that will not even last us through the semester. We just go through it so quickly because it's something that so many people love."

Katelyn Helberg, the alternative assistance coordinator for the pantry, also stated the pantry is often in need of rice. 

"Rice is something that a lot of our clients typically want," Helberg said "We're currently serving around 1,100 clients a month. You can imagine how many people we're trying to distribute to, and rice is something more expensive for us to buy and supply in the pantry."

Back in the fall 2022 semester, a group of students visited with the Dale Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food and Life Sciences Dean's Partnership Council. The students shared information about food insecurity on campus with Jean-Francois Meullenet, interim dean of the college. 

Meullenet, while serving as interim dean since July 2022, is also senior associate vice president for agriculture research with the U of A System Division of Agriculture and director of the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station. Meullenet recognized an opportunity to use his food industry connections to help. 

"We are the Dale Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food and Life Sciences, and that food part is very important," Meullenet said. "It was eye-opening to learn how many people in our community are in need of food. I have connections with industry, so contacting them was really just an easy first step in assisting the food pantry." 

Meullenet worked with Nathan McKinney, assistant director of the experiment station, to coordinate the rice donations.

Wilson said McKinney came to the pantry first with a generous donation. While there, he offered his business card and said if the pantry ever needed more rice, to contact him. 

"So, we did," Wilson said. "And we've continued that partnership, even when there were times when there wasn't any rice available to donate, he stayed connected and let us know as soon as there was availability. It's been so impactful to have that reliable source of donations coming in." 

McKinney gives all credit to the producers in the state. 

"Arkansas rice producers and rice millers have always been generous and gracious with their products, and they will continue to do so." McKinney said. "They have pledged to give even more in the future." 

"They always give to efforts like this," Meullenet said. "They will just bring entire pallets of bags of rice and I can tell they are excited to be aware of a need that serves a community well, like the Full Circle Food Pantry."

Helberg is anticipating more rice soon. 

"We're expecting more than 600 pounds (following the first donation)," she said. "With all these 25-pound bags, we take those and portion them out based on our pantry's portion guides. We try to portion it out so that we can distribute it more equally to many different households. We anticipate that, with this much rice, it will last us even into the spring semester."

"We're just so appreciative of this donation and all donations that come into the pantry," Wilson said. "I'm really excited to continue any and all partnerships that come our way."

According to the Division of Agriculture's 2023 Arkansas Agriculture Profile, Arkansas was the No. 1 rice producer in the United States in 2022. Data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows that Arkansas accounted for nearly 50% of U.S. rice production last year. 

About the Dale Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food and Life Sciences: Bumpers College provides life-changing opportunities to position and prepare graduates who will be leaders in the businesses associated with foods, family, the environment, agriculture, sustainability and human quality of life; and who will be first-choice candidates of employers looking for leaders, innovators, policy makers and entrepreneurs. The college is named for Dale Bumpers, former Arkansas governor and longtime U.S. senator who made the state prominent in national and international agriculture. For more information about Bumpers College, visit our website, and follow us on Twitter at @BumpersCollege and Instagram at BumpersCollege.

About the University of Arkansas: As Arkansas' flagship institution, the U of A provides an internationally competitive education in more than 200 academic programs. Founded in 1871, the U of A contributes more than $2.2 billion to Arkansas' economy through the teaching of new knowledge and skills, entrepreneurship and job development, discovery through research and creative activity while also providing training for professional disciplines. The Carnegie Foundation classifies the U of A among the few U.S. colleges and universities with the highest level of research activity. U.S. News & World Report ranks the U of A among the top public universities in the nation. See how the U of A works to build a better world at Arkansas Research and Economic Development News

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