THV’s 14th annual Cereal Drive for the Arkansas Food Bank is in full swing and so is one of its most committed organizers for the past 13years—Wanda Bateman.
Bateman, along with others in the community, have teamed with THV’s summer event aimed at providing kid-friendly breakfasts to needy families throughout Arkansas.
Bateman is no stranger in the community when it comes to reaching out to helping others. From her involvement with Neighbor to Neighbor, the Pine Bluff Police Department and the Humane Society, to visiting the elderly, planning a charity fundraiser or extending a helping hand to someone facing a personal challenge, Bateman keeps herself busy.
In the midst of all she does annually, the month of June is one of her busiest times as she gears up to raise cereal and monetary donations from individuals, businesses, churches and charitable organizations to purchase several thousand boxes of cereal to be distributed to needy children in Jefferson County.
Bateman said that more than 58 percent of children in Arkansas receive free or reduced-priced meals during the school year. Her concern is that many of those children go hungry during the summer months when school is out.
“Can you imagine a child going to bed at night hungry?” Bateman said. “It just breaks my heart to think about it.”
Bateman said she doesn’t remember going without anything she needed as a child but remembers her mother saying she only had $20 that had to last until her father got paid again.
She said she really didn’t understand then, but now empathizes with families that may be struggling to put food on the table.
“Some of these children live in single-parent homes or with grandparents,” she said. “That can be hard, but even harder for children who may have parents, but for whatever reason still have to take care of themselves.”
Cereal is a good choice of food for the drive, Bateman said, and can make a big difference when there’s nothing to eat or nothing prepared.
“It’s easy for a kid to climb up on the counter and make a bowl of cereal or grab a pop tart,” she said.
In addition to cereal, Bateman scouts the newspaper for advertised specials and barters with local grocers to get volume discounts on pop tarts, breakfast bars, grits and oatmeal — all of which are foods approved by the Arkansas Food Bank.
“The stores are wonderful to work with,” Bateman said. “The people in Pine Bluff are some of the most generous and caring people the world.”
Bateman received an award in 2013 from THV for her tireless efforts, yet she said she never sets a goal.
“I just want to collect as much as I possibly can,” she said.
So far that strategy has worked. Bateman has consistently made the largest overall contribution of any team for 12 of the 13 years she has participated. In 2013 she contributed more than 14,000 boxes. The nearest competitor in her division contributed 1,164 boxes.
“She has a very savvy technique,” said Tom Brannon, THV’s representative for the cereal drive. “She hits every store in town.”
Brannon said Bateman is a hero in his book, always willing to step up to fill a need.
“We call her the cereal queen,” he said. “She gives tens of thousands to feed the children, and I just think she is golden for what she does for the community. I have so much admiration for her.”
Bateman will be accepting donations of any size and cereal until June 27.
“Any contribution will help,” Bateman said. “It all adds up.”
For more information, contact Bateman at 870-536-6000.