2021 has been a year of transformation for Be Mighty Little Rock. From new staff, continued advocacy for local food security in new ways, to new cooking, gardening, and nutrition education opportunities. Join us in this post as we look over Be Mighty’s 2021 and reflect on the program’s relationship with its community and our city.
Much of Be Mighty’s work in 2021 aimed to expand nutrition access across the city of Little Rock. Not only have we continued USDA meal distribution across 11 branches after school and throughout the summer, but we have also evaluated and expanded programs like Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Application Assistance hours, and the Rides-to-Reads Rock Region Metro bus pass programs. These programs have been made available and expanded across CALS library branch locations throughout 2021, and we are happy to say they will be continued (to some extent) into 2022!
In January 2021, Be Mighty partially took on an AmeriCorps service member, Katie Matthews, to serve with CALS and Be Mighty through Full Circle FarmCorps for 8 months. Throughout the service term, Katie contributed to the planting, harvesting, and giveaway of nearly 1,000 pounds of fresh fruits, vegetables, herbs, and flowers to patrons visiting the library. She also taught nutrition education, and with Be Mighty’s support, led Growing My Plate to 15 kids across ten families virtual garden to table cooking education. After her service ended in August, Katie joined the Be Mighty team as the Garden and Nutrition Education Facilitator to continue assisting in the garden, nutrition, and cooking education courses.
The Spring and Summer brought a number of staffing changes to the program. Jasmine began as Be Mighty Coordinator in April 2021 after the previous Program Coordinator, Kay Kay DeRossette, was promoted to Grants Coordinator on the CALS Development team. Additionally, during the Summer of 2021, Be Mighty hosted 4 AmeriCorps VISTA Summer Associates, growing our team to a size we hadn’t yet seen in Be Mighty history! Ashley, Lily, Jamee, and Sierra provided nutrition education with community partners like the Dunbar Community Center and UA Little Rock’s Children International. They also assisted library patrons with SNAP applications and distributed meals for the summer meal program. To read more on the work of our service members, click to read our previous blog post, AmeriCorps Service Members at CALS: Becoming better advocates through service.
In the Fall, SNAP navigation at CALS expanded as employees volunteered to receive SNAP navigation training and continue the Office Hours established by the Associates. These SNAP office hours are available to help patrons fill out the long and detailed application forms. SNAP office hours are available regularly at 7 CALS branches. You can read more about the importance of the SNAP program from our blog post, SNAP Challenge: Reflections & Resources.
In October, Be Mighty was honored to award just over $15,500 to 6 organizations through the Be Mighty Equipment and Supplies Grant. With generous funding from the National Recreation & Park Association (NRPA) Community Nutrition Hubs Grant, Be Mighty created a one-time grant opportunity open to local organizations focused on alleviating hunger. This subgrant funding will be used by local organizations, schools, and others in Little Rock who want to expand their capacity for providing USDA meals, conduct nutrition education, or develop or maintain community gardens for educational purposes. These organizations include, Arkansas Children’s Hospital’s Centennial Garden, Chicot Elementary School, Dee Brown Library garden, Fab 44, McMath Library garden, and Woodruff Community Garden. We encourage you to get involved with these organizations and keep an eye out for all the ways they continue to foster community nutrition hubs throughout Little Rock!
After Katie began as Be Mighty Garden & Nutrition Education Facilitator in August, we launched many new and fun programs. First, we pilot a series of Caregiver & Child Cooking Classes, hosted in partnership with the Arkansas Children’s Hospital and the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance. We used Share Our Strength’s Cooking Matters six-week curriculum. Though contrary to more traditional nutrition education classes that separate by age group, we were hoping to faciliate a family kitchen type of atmosphere where caregivers could learn more about how to engage their kids throughout the cooking process. We loved getting to offer a new spin on an old favorite, and work with some of our favorite longtime partners throughout the process.
One of the most popular programs – the Local Chef Cook-Along – encouraged families to cook a healthy and affordable meal together at home alongside their favorite local chefs. Be Mighty partnered with local chefs from Bella’s Kitchen, Vito and Vera, The Cajun Trouxth, The Plant Kings, and Lili’s Mexican Street Food. These virtual programs were popular and were well received on Facebook and Instagram, where they were streamed live. They are still available for folks to go back and watch at any time.
Towards the end of the year, Be Mighty also had several opportunities to partner with community groups and organizations. For example, we worked with our local Girl Scout Troupe to learn about gardening, and partnered with the Little Rock Audubon Center and FEED First to disperse healthy recipe meal kits to families nearby the center. This would not have been possible without the incredible volunteers who helped us pack these kits!
Be Mighty saw so much growth in 2021. We can’t thank our library staff, community partners, and program participants and supporters enough. We hope to continue with this momentum and strengthen these programs and services even further into our community this year. There is so much more to come and we look forward to sharing it with you! Follow us on Facebook & Instagram to stay up-to-date with the program’s happenings.