Apr 22, 2024 - News

New nonprofit tackles food insecurity in Northwest Arkansas' Hispanic community

Illustration of a padlock as a bag of groceries

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

A restaurant owner is launching a nonprofit to alleviate food insecurity in Hispanic communities in NWA.

Why it matters: Arkansas has the highest food insecurity rate in the nation, and Hispanic people are at disproportionately high risk.

State of play: Juan Bahena, who owns Fayetteville Mexican restaurant TULA and Bentonville food truck Taqueria Lucha, recently started Casa Dos Alas. The organization will host pop-up food markets and work with groups like Northwest Arkansas Food Bank to better reach Hispanic people in NWA, he told Axios.

Language barriers between people who need food and those who run food-insecurity organizations can deter people from using their services.

  • "If people don't understand our culture, it's difficult for them to be able to help," Bahena said.

Casa Dos Alas will strive to go directly to Hispanic neighborhoods and work sites, offering traditional foods.

  • Lack of transportation and fear of seeking help from organizations keeps some Hispanic people from using the food bank, Axios learned from Mallory Garrick, major gifts officer at the Northwest Arkansas Food Bank.

The intrigue: The nonprofit will also teach community cooking classes so that anyone can learn to make traditional dishes.

  • This can help teach a part of Hispanic cultures to non-Hispanic people and ensure young Hispanics don't lose part of their culture. Bahena also wants to teach everyone to take part in cooking, getting away from the idea that cooking is women's responsibility.

How it works: Generally, the food bank curates boxes with items like pasta or rice, canned vegetables and peanut butter, Garrick said. People sign up to receive food through school-based pantries and other partner agencies.

  • The food bank's Feed Rogers Food Pantry, which operates like a grocery store where people choose their foods but don't pay, has been well received. Garrick gave an example of a woman who was living in a hotel and had no way to prepare pasta or rice, which likely would have been in a curated box.

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