Event aims to help struggling residents

Economic Opportunity Day, a two-day event put on by the Pine Bluff, Jefferson County Economic Opportunities Commission, concluded Tuesday at the Pine Bluff Convention Center.

Several nonprofit agencies and businesses were on hand to provide assistance with energy bills and information about other resources available to low-income individuals and families.

“We have a huge population here that struggle to meet everyday necessities,” said David Knight, executive director of PBJCEOC.

Knight said the idea for the event came as a result of a partnership with the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service.

“Instead of waiting for D.C. or Little Rock to do something,” he said, “we were looking at ways for Pine Bluff to help Pine Bluff.”

Knight said one of the concerns was finding a way to make sure people who need access to resources understand how those resources work better together.

“Typically if someone is struggling to pay their energy bill, they also may be struggling with food, they may be struggling with child care, or with funding an education. And… if you’re struggling to pay your energy bill, you don’t have gas to run all over town.”

Economic Opportunity Day, now in its third year, provides a one-stop resource center for individuals to get assistance and get informed in a convenient, comfortable setting. Knight said one of the benefits of having the event at the convention center is that the commission can help more people in one day than they can at the office. On Monday alone, more than 500 people representing approximately 300 homes were served. The office capacity is approximately 150 people, many of whom stand outside in long lines waiting their turn.

“In the last two days, since it has been so cold, that has worked out really good,” Knight said.

Another concern is how to get the federal funds into the hands of the people who need them as quickly as possible.

“This event helps us do that,” Knight said.

In addition to energy assistance, some of the services provided included assistance understanding and applying for affordable health care, assistance with child care, child support, home weatherization and healthy food and menu planning.

Mary Ann Kizer from the University of Arkansas Jefferson County Cooperative Extension Service said one her agency’s goals is to help families learn to eat healthy. Her booth served snacks, passed out food guides and provided information about the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

“If we can’t get people to lose weight, maybe we can get them to eat better,” she said.

Kizer believes the event makes an important impact because of the potential for helping a larger volume of people in one place.

“If we can help even 10% be more successful, we will have achieved success,” Knight said.

After the event, services will continue to be provided at the Pine Bluff Jefferson County EOC office located at 817 S. Cherry St. For more information, call 870-536-0046