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Arkansas farmers and agribusinesses join forces to be sure their hungry, needy neighbors through Acres of Help charity, built on the biblical concept of gleaning.
MEMBERS OF the Acres of Help charity are, from left, Brad Chambless, Farmers & Merchants Bank; Barry Wilson, owner, Wil-Co Flying Service; farmer Drew Whiting; farmer Keith Patterson; Pastor Chad Philipp; and Kirk Vansandt, Farmers & Merchants Bank.
Thayn Morton has planted and grown millions of seeds as a farmer in Dewitt, Ark., but none has risen so high as the one planted one afternoon in the fall of 2012. This seed just hasn’t stopped giving.
Morton was returning from a trip to town that day, and as he drove down Grandview Drive in DeWitt, he passed by the Caring and Sharing Food Pantry, a food assistance program in DeWitt’s downtown area. Snaking from its entrance was a 150-foot line of hungry people waiting for food.
“I had heard that someone had started a food pantry,” Morton said, “but I had no idea that there was that kind of need. I also realized that I knew some folks in that line.”
Morton returned to his combine to continue harvesting corn, but he couldn’t stop thinking about the food line. When he stepped off the machine during a break that afternoon, Morton saw piles of spilled corn here and there in the field, typical losses of the harvesting process. The loose grain brought a scripture to mind from the Old Testament. The verse stipulated that farmers leave some of their harvest in the field for widows and orphaned children, an act of kindness known as gleaning.
Morton’s thoughts wandered from his harvest. If farmers could “tighten up” on spillage during harvest, they could easily afford to give the savings to charity to help DeWitt’s needy citizens.
“A couple of years ago corn prices were really doing well and yields were excellent,” Morton said. “I thought that if I could talk 10 or 15 farmers into donating the revenue from one acre of corn, that would be a gross of $1,500 an acre from each farmer. That could make a difference.”
Morton called his friend, Brad Chambless, who is senior vice president at Farmers & Merchants Bank in DeWitt, with an idea for a farmer-fundraiser banquet. Chambless liked the concept and immediately started working out the legal details. They formed an all-volunteer board of several area farmers, a flying service owner, a pastor and two bankers. They decided to call the charity Acres of Help.
Because DeWitt is a small community and closely connected to agriculture, it didn’t take long for word of the upcoming event to spread among farmers and agribusinesses. Soon, local agribusinesses were insisting on donating auction items such as pallets of seed and chemicals to raise more money. Acres of Help was coming to fruition.
In February 2013, over 200 attended the first Acres of Help fundraiser, including close to 100 area farmers. The charity brought in almost $130,000. The second year, it raised just under $150,000. The fundraiser is alcohol-free and family-friendly.