Hot Spring County Harvest of Hope ensures children receive the food they need

The Rev. LaVon Post, Penny Gassman and John Allan Funk on Thanksgiving Day presented a check to Arkansas Foodbank representative Brandi Johnston (at right). The more than $18,000 raised this year will cover the weekend food needs of all hungry children in Hot Spring County for an entire school year.

Over the past seven years, Hot Spring County Harvest of Hope has raised $123,000 to help feed hungry children in their part of the state. For the past four years, Harvest of Hope’s efforts have covered the cost for all backpack food needs in Hot Spring County, making it the only county in the state currently covering the complete cost of feeding the children in its area’s schools.

“I want every surrounding county to be able to say that, too,” said John Allan Funk, chair of the board for Harvest of Hope and a member of First UMC Malvern. While the United Methodist congregation serves as “home base” for Harvest of Hope, the organization benefits from the involvement of multiple churches, community organizations, businesses and individuals. Harvest of Hope began by holding fundraisers selling smoked meats, but leaders realized the expense and labor-intensive nature of the sale wasn’t necessary if they would simply raise awareness of the need in their own communities.

“Our board members talk to civic groups… and once they realize how dire the situation is, they freely give,” Funk says.

In addition to fundraising, the Harvest of Hope board maintains connections in the schools to stay aware of the needs. For example, board member Penny Gassman, a retired teacher who also is a First UMC member, serves as the Malvern Elementary School liaison to the Arkansas Foodbank. She personally fills the backpacks each week for the students who need weekend help with food.