Civic groups, churches make holiday plans

Each Tuesday, lunch is served at the Open Arms Food Pantry. Brooke Scott gets a hot dog from Huntsville United Methodists Church Minister Brad Moore,

Nancy Dignan of the Open Arms Food Pantry, Pat Anderson and Rock Hatfield.

As the Thanksgiving holiday approaches, the Open Arms Food Pantry, the Madison County Ministerial Alliance and churches in the community are making plans to ensure those in need share a Thanksgiving meal.

On Nov. 23, from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m., Huntsville Missionary Baptist Church, 5602B Highway 412, is giving away a free box of ingredients that will include a turkey, dressing and other staples included in a traditional meal for “those that could use a little help.” Quantities are limited.

The Madison County Ministerial Alliance is hosting a community-wide worship and dinner on Nov. 24 at 6 p.m. at First Presbyterian Church, 309 Church St., and according to Nancy Dignan, who operates the Open Arms Food Pantry, “everyone is invited.”

Living Water Baptist Church will host a free community dinner from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at 2668 Madison 8735, commonly known as City Dump Road, on Thanksgiving Day.

The church will also deliver a traditional meal on Thanksgiving to the homebound for those who call the church at 479-738-1352 by Nov. 27, and request the meal.

The food pantry also plans to distribute turkeys and turkey breasts for the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, Dignan said. And, churches, including Huntsville United Methodist, First Presbyterian Church and First Assembly of God, are helping stock and deliver food baskets, “with all the fixings,” to those in need.

The food pantry, which feeds between 900 and 1,000 people per month, is located at 400 West St., and is open on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Each Tuesday at the food pantry, the United Methodist Church serves lunch. And, once a month, the food pantry offers commodities, such as beans and rice, potatoes, cheese, and occasionally chicken and blueberries.

The food pantry is also planning a Christmas celebration on Dec. 10 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., in which children in need, from babies to children age 14, will be given a toy.  Cookies and punch will be served.

A community-wide effort, lead by churches and business people and started in 2001, the food pantry reaches out to people in need. “If you’re hungry and you’re in need and you can’t pay a bill and if your electricity is about to be shut off,” the pantry will help, Dignan said.

Dignan said the need here is great.

“Madison County is really high in poverty levels and high in children’s abuse and addiction,” she said. She said the need has always been present in the county but the food pantry is “seeing it more and more and it’s apparent. It’s because of the load on everybody is harder so they are coming for help.”

Dignan said people in need are often viewed in negative ways.

“We’ve got to change how we view people in need. Some people don’t have what they need. They’re working, working, working and their car breaks down and they lose their job. … It’s not always their fault.

“It’s not all about you and something you did wrong. It’s more about we’re all just living and we need to help.”

Dignan remains optimistic about others reaching out to help. “[The] last 10 years, I’ve seen a rise in concern. People are looking around and going ‘oh, I can help.’”

In addition to offering food and commodities, the food pantry also offers teen challenge classes, which include helping with parenting; anger-management classes; a 12-step program; and life-skills classes.  Some of those attending are ordered by a court to do so, while others attending do so voluntarily.

Four classes a week are offered with 20 facilitators volunteering to lead the classes. The pantry also offers a training class for those wishing to volunteer. Dignan also tries to help people coming to the pantry find jobs.

“Lots of resources exist and churches in the county are helping. I mean we’re all helping. It’s not just at the one-on-one but it’s about people working together to help each other,” Dignan said.

Dignan, a mid-wife who has lived in the county for 39 years, is employed by Arkansas Children’s Hospital, and reaches out to high-risk families and single moms who need help. She is one of three employees in Madison County who sees 30 children and mothers a month. “We go into their homes and work with kids and moms,” she said.

The food pantry also offers a certified consultant on breast feeding and someone to help families make sure their car seats meet the correct specifications.

In addition, each Friday night, the skating rink, which is next door to the food bank, is open from 7 to 10 p.m. A $5 donation is requested. She said 30 to 50 people show up, “on a good night.” A lock-in is held once a year and approximately 100 children participate.

“While they’re here, they get encouragement, get loved on. … Our goal is a fun, safe environment.”

Dignan and her husband, Richard, purchased the skating rink in 1994, after she had worked in home health at the hospital in Madison County. The skating rink is a nonprofit along with the food pantry. The couple also own a farm in the county.

Dignan completed her nursing degree in Georgia but had visited a friend in Crosses.

“I went back to Georgia and was a camp nurse and met my husband and he said, ‘Where do we want to live,’ and I said ‘Let’s go back to Arkansas.’”

Dignan said the pantry is in need of a items, such as diapers, food – but no meat – canned goods, dry goods, paper products and toys. It neither has room for storage or a need for adult clothing.  Donations may be dropped off each Tuesday and Thursday between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. Monetary donations are tax deductible and may be mailed to Open Arms Food Pantry, P.O. Box 854, Huntsville, AR 72740.

“We have need all around us. Jesus says the poor will always be among us, but there are ways to give,” she said.

If someone is in need of services, Dignan may be reached at 479-738-8553.

“Huntsville is a wonderful community of people. Churches are pouring out to those in needs. Everyone is working together.”

The Madison County Ministerial Alliance also organizes the Encourager Program, which is a mentoring program for the Huntsville Intermediate School.

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