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story.lead_photo.caption Camille Wrinke inside the Harvest Regional Food Bank warehouse in Texarkana. Photo by Kelsi Brinkmeyer / Texarkana Gazette.

With just a few weeks left in this year, Harvest Regional Food Bank has already provided 1.1 million more meals than they did in all of 2019.

It's staggering, but with COVID-19 causing layoffs and economic uncertainties for area families, the number of food-insecure people has increased.

"What is different this year is people who never thought they would need food assistance found themselves in line at a food pantry," said Camille Coker Wrinkle, CEO and executive director of Harvest Regional Food Bank.

In 2019, Harvest Regional Food Bank provided 3.2 million meals. As of mid-November this year, the food bank has well exceeded that number by providing 4.3 million meals.

"This year, we have seen the biggest level of need we have ever had," she said. "When the crisis first hit, we saw a large spike in donations."

Camille Wrinke inside the Harvest Regional Food Bank warehouse in Texarkana. This year has been challenging, she says.
Photo by Kelsi Brinkmeyer/Texarkana Gazette.

But COVID concerns halted fundraising efforts for many area nonprofits, including Harvest Texarkana.

Donations are essential to meet the increasing need.

"A lot of what we offer and have to have on hand we either have donated or use money raised in donations to provide those products from low-cost vendors who sell to food banks through the country," Camille said.

"The biggest thing for people to know is anything they can give is appreciated, it goes to help their neighbors. If 2020 has taught us anything, it's that food insecurity is no longer a problem that most of us are removed from. It has touched everyone is some way."

Those who care to help have several options.

"Anything someone can give — whether it's time, food or money — is going to be a big help during the holidays as well as the coming months. Unfortunately, I don't see the need decreasing anytime soon, so our team is continuing to work hard to make sure people get the food they need."

Food insecurity and hunger are daily struggles for many regardless of the time of year.

"Hunger does not have a season. It does not take a summer break and in 2020 it has been more constant than ever," Camille said.

For every dollar donated to Harvest, the agency can provide 5.5 meals, thanks to its membership in Feeding America's network of food banks.

A donate button can be found on Harvest's website:

Harvest's mission had some added challenges this year, but through community and collaborative efforts, the mission continues.

"We were already serving over 75 pantries, soup kitchens and shelters, and get them food from us in a 10-county area," she said.

"One of our biggest challenges was how we would continue to provide meals to food-insecure children because they were now at home and not having access to free and reduced meals. I'm proud of our team and the way we pivoted to have backpack sacks of food delivered to children on bus routes," Camille said.

Harvest also partners with churches and community groups to help distribute food.

Another plus is fostering new partnerships, particularly with public safety agencies.

By establishing a connection with volunteer fire departments, Harvest provides food for homebound seniors. The food is given to the firefighters for needs they know about in the areas they serve.

Harvest has also developed a partnership with two local police departments. Called Patrol Pack, officers have food, Personal Protection Equipment and other necessities on hand when they respond to calls.

Camille said Harvest plans to expand the Patrol Pack program so more law-enforcement agencies can distribute the items.

Also, a new outreach project this year has been the one-day mobile pantries in the Texarkana area. They've been held at First Baptist Church and the Four States Fairgrounds.

More than 3,000 boxes of food have been distributed at each event. Providing produce to Harvest's recipients in a general challenge.

"While we have a lot of farmers in this area, we do not have a lot of what you would consider farm to table," she said, adding soybeans, cotton and wheat are the crops traditionally grown in this area.

To provide many items like produce, dairy items and meats, Harvest works with local retail partners like Sam's Club, Walmart and Albertsons.

Camille, daughter of George and Nancy Coker, grew up in Texarkana. She admired and adopted her parents' community minded, helpful mindset. The Cokers are longtime, prominent philanthropists in the business, church and community levels.

"They are the type of people, even now, when they see a need they do something," Camille said.

Camille attended Hendrix College and then moved to Little Rock, where she worked in the nonprofit arena for 10 years. She gained valuable experience in fundraising, including grassroots, major and planned giving. Other skills she honed were grantwriting and special events. She also worked two years in public accounting.

When the Harvest Regional Food Bank's chief position came open seven years ago, Camille applied.

"God makes things happen and this is one of those examples," she said.

Her experience in Little Rock has served her well in this job, but she has learned new things too. She is even certified to drive a forklift. Camille and her husband, Tommy, have four children: Emma, 17; Caroline, 14; Ben, 13; and Ava, 2. She hopes her children will follow the philanthropic example set by her work and her parents.

"If there is a silver lining in all this," she said, "it has really brought the issue of hunger to the forefront. It could be your neighbor or a family member who has been laid off and now in need of groceries so they can make their money stretch." 

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