Food And Health Go Hand In Hand
Dr. Janelle Potts, primary care physician with Mercy Clinic Family Medicine – Downtown Rogers, knows this firsthand. That’s why she and other co-workers with Mercy Northwest Arkansas were eager to help establish the Little Free Pantry at the Rogers clinic five years ago. The Little Free Pantry has been so beneficial and successful, additional pantries have popped up at several Mercy NWA locations. The latest pantry opened at Mercy Hospital Northwest Arkansas in Rogers on Nov. 5.
Other Mercy pantry locations include:
- Mercy Highway 102, Bentonville
- Mercy Clinic I Street, Bentonville
- Mercy Clinic Centerton
- Mercy Clinic Pea Ridge
- Mercy Clinic Bella Vista
- Mercy Clinic Primary Care J Street, Bentonville
- Mercy Physicians Plaza, Rogers
- Mercy Clinic Primary Care - Springdale
The mini pantry movement is a grassroots, crowdsourced solution to an immediate, local need, according to littlefreepantry.org. Cinthia Vlaovich, executive director of operations, Mercy Clinic Northwest Arkansas, said the pantries were established in response to a growing population of people suffering from food insecurity.
“When those people become our patients, it is very hard to help them with their health when they are hungry or don’t have access to healthy food options,” Vlaovich said. “Patients utilize them every single day, and we have had a lot of positive feedback and thankfulness for the food.”
Dr. Lisa Low, Mercy NWA’s community health medical director, added that the pantries were created “because of the passion and heart of our co-workers for helping those in need.”
“It really is a grassroots movement coming straight from the physicians and co-workers,” she said.
For Dr. Potts and others at the downtown Rogers clinic, including practice manager Natalie Turner, raising awareness of the pantry became a priority right away when it was first set up five years ago.
“Once it was put in place, we took it under our wings and tried to make it more successful,” Dr. Potts said. “We started the Facebook page and Instagram page to raise awareness. We spread the word in downtown Rogers neighborhood group. We created a link to encourage people to fill the pantry on weekends when clinic co-workers weren't there to check on it.”
Patients have been very supportive of the pantry, Dr. Potts said, as have many Rogers-area neighbors and local businesses.
“Many patients bring in food to put in the pantry when they come to their visits,” she said. “On the other hand, there are patients who struggle with food insecurity and have needed food from the pantry. It has been nice to be able to send some of my elderly patients who are on a fixed income home with a bag of nourishing food.
“There is so much food insecurity in Northwest Arkansas, and much of it is hidden. It is easy to forget there are those who are struggling to put food on the table – if they have a table at all.”
Mercy’s clinic administrative teams fund the construction of most of the pantries, while the hospital auxiliary is funding the hospital-based pantry that will soon be installed. Facility director Monty Lindsey, a member of the Mercy NWA Outreach Committee, builds them on his own time.
During Mercy Kindness Week in November (which coincides with World Kindness Day on Nov. 13), co-workers will take part in a food drive to help stock the pantries. While community groups also contribute, and Mercy encourages utilization and donation through social media networks, Mercy co-workers donate the majority of the food.
“This last spring in the middle of a pandemic, our co-workers donated tens of thousands of items,” Vlaovich said. “They gave so much food, we were able to share truckloads of food to another popular community pantry in Rogers.”
Mercy hopes to work with local school art teachers to have students paint some of the pantries as a way to connect with students in each community, Vlaovich added.
Dr. Potts said she would love to see Little Free Pantries at every Mercy location.
“Mercy has a mission to care for those in need, whether it is the sick or the hungry, and this is a perfect way to expand our mission,” she said.