ROGERS, Ark. — Food and health go hand in hand, which is why five years ago Mercy Northwest Arkansas (NWA) started its Little Free Pantry at the Rogers clinic.
Because of the pantry's success, additional pantries have popped up at many other Mercy locations across NWA.
The latest pantry opened over the summer at Mercy Clinic Primary Care in Springdale, and another is currently in the works at Mercy Hospital NWA in Rogers.
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
According to the Little Free Pantry website, the mini pantry movement is a grassroots, crowdsourced solution to an immediate and local need.
Cinthia Vlaovich, executive director of operations at Mercy Clinic Northwest Arkansas, says the pantries were created in response to the growing population of those 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.”
Officials at the downtown Rogers Mercy Clinic say many patients and local businesses are supportive of the pantry.
“Many patients bring in food to put in the pantry when they come to their visits,” said Dr. Janelle Potts from the Rogers clinic. “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."
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.
Mercy NWA facilities and operations director, Monty Lindsey, builds them on his own time.
During Mercy Kindness Week in November, which coincides with World Kindness Day on Nov. 13, workers will take part in a food drive to help stock the pantries.
While community groups also contribute, and Mercy encourages donations through social media networks, Mercy workers are the ones who donate the majority of the food.
“This past 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.”
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.