Great Southern Bank in West Plains has donated $2,000 to the West Plains R-7 Bridges Program, which will go toward Bridges’ holiday break grocery voucher program for food-insecure students, said Program Coordinator Cyndi Wright.
Wright said nearly 200 children used vouchers during the Thanksgiving break last week; the cost to Bridges for those vouchers was almost $4,000.
She expects more children to participate during the two-week winter break that starts when school lets out Dec. 20.
Vouchers are issued based on requests made by district counselors, staff and teachers for students they know who are going to be going through hardships during the holidays.
According to West Plains R-7 Special Services Director Amy Ross, each student who qualifies for the program will be given a $20 voucher for the break. The vouchers can only be redeemed in person at Cash Saver in West Plains, 705 Kentucky Ave. She said they may only be used for food and may be redeemed by students and parents.
“It’s just a little something extra to help them during Christmas break,” said Ross. She also said that in addition to the vouchers, students will still be able to visit the Bridges store and take part in its backpack program.
The week before winter break, Bridges will hold two events to celebrate its move into a new building. From 3 to 6 p.m. Dec. 16, the Bridges store will give away unlimited free clothes in its current location on the West Plains High School campus. The giveaway, open to West Plains R-7 students, is intended to help the program lighten its load as it relocates.
A ribbon cutting ceremony will be held at 10 a.m. the following day, Dec. 17, at the new location of the Bridges store, 1013 N. College St.
District Superintendent Dr. Lori Wilson said in July, when the move was first announced, that the relocation would make Bridges more accessible to the community, allow for more efficiency and be more customer-friendly.
‘A GRAND DAY TO CELEBRATE’
Great Southern Bank made its donation to Bridges during “A Grand Day to Celebrate” held Tuesday. The event was an opportunity extended by the bank to people in the community in effort to raise awareness and collaborate with nonprofits addressing critical needs in rural communities, such as Bridges, said bank officials.
According to Christi Gibson with Great Southern, the bank will donate $25,000 to 23 nonprofit organizations, with Bridges among them.
“This was an opportunity to bring awareness at the local level,” said Gibson, community development and relations manager at the bank. “We had a great response and it was very well-received.”
Poverty and food insecurity is a major problem in many rural communities throughout the U.S. and Howell County is no exception.
Estimates released by the U.S. Census Bureau show that over 30% of children in Howell Co. live below the poverty level.
With poverty comes an increased risk of food insecurity. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines food insecurity as a lack of access to enough food for an active, healthy life and uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate foods.
According to 2017 statistics compiled by Feeding America, 23.6% of those under 18 years old in Howell County experience regular food insecurity.
The effects of food insecurity can also be compounded by what have been called “food deserts.” The USDA defines rural food deserts as areas which lack regular access to fresh fruits, vegetables and other healthy foods within 10 miles of a household.
Going by this definition, the USDA shows nearly half of Howell County is within a food desert.
For more information about Bridges or to donate, email Wright at email@example.com or call 256-6150.