Pre-Christmas meal helps families in many ways leading up to the holiday

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Christmas giving is a tradition for lots of Arkansans. But the people who need help need it every day, not just on the 25th.

One local organization gave people a memorable Christmas two days in advance.

Feed First USA hosted a free Christmas meal Monday afternoon for the families it serves through its daily after-school programs and members of the community.

“It was great to see all the people pouring in,” Tasha Shumate said. “We started at 2:00; they were here before then!”

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Feed First USA was founded in April 2018. It provides meals, tutoring, and activities for children in Southwest Little Rock. This is its second year hosting a community Christmas meal.

“Last year, we did it on Christmas Eve, and it was great,” Shumate, who oversees marketing for the agency, said. “People came in. But we decided to do it on the eve of Christmas Eve because we thought that we may have more people to come in, because they may be doing things with their family.”

Affording Christmas is a challenge for many of the families Feed First USA serves, as well as many of its neighbors along Baseline Road. So, aside from a serving line, there was a shopping line with piles of shoes, shirts, blankets, and non-perishable foods that parents could take home.

“When school is not in, a lot of times, those meals are what kids are dependent on, those school meals,” Shumate stated. “So, when we have time like this when they’re out of school, we’re glad to be able to provide that ease for families. You don’t want to have to worry about what you’re going to eat, so that provides such a relief, or a burden off some of our families and other people in the community.”

There were also toys, wrapped and under the tree. “Because it adds an element of surprise for the kiddos,” Shumate explained. “So, if they did want to take it home, they could stick it up under the tree and they could have something to open up.”

“It feels real good,” Maya Jackson, a high school student who works part-time at Feed First USA, said, “because we might have gave them that gift when they probably wasn’t even going to get one. So, it’s good to give. And I say, it’s better to give than receive.”

The kids got to play together while their parents stocked up, because what good is a new toy if it’s still in the box?

“Oh, this is joy!” Clinton Coleman exclaimed. Coleman lives in Hot Springs but volunteers as much as he can for Feed First USA. He spent most of his afternoon as the party’s deejay, playing his favorite Christmas tunes.

Texas Roadhouse and Tyson Foods donated most of the food for the Christmas meal, while volunteers made the rest. The toys and clothes came from donations collected throughout the year and an angel tree campaign.

Giving will continue every day inside the Feed First USA office and its satellite locations around Southwest Little Rock, whether it be a warm meal or some help with homework.

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“It’s a good experience, to give back to my community, because I am from Southwest Little Rock,” Jackson stated. “So, it’s good to help out and see your community coming together, doing something good for one another.”

“The great thing about, for the children, what they’ll take away from this, is that the community does love them and does care,” Coleman said. “It’s not just lip service. A lot of people can talk about it, but they can actually see it for themselves. They come to experience it. They’ll take it back and share with their families, their friends. It’s ‘pay it forward’ at its best.”