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CLEARINGHOUSE ASSISTS MORE THAN 3,000 PEOPLE IN FORT SMITH

Hundreds of local families have received assistance from the food pantry at the Community Services Clearinghouse in Fort Smith this year.

Chuck Goux, the Community Services Clearinghouse executive director, said the organization’s food pantry has seen 1,812 families from January through June of this year, not including those it had to refer to other agencies. Out of that number of families, 2,999 adults and 512 children were served.

“We’re a dual-purpose organization in that we provide services for families in need who are disabled, are elderly, or cancer patients through our pantry who are on a fixed income and meet the requirements of the pantry,” Goux said.

The Clearinghouse also conducts the Meals for Kids Backpack Program, which gives bags of food each week to children who qualify in area schools for the weekends during the school year, Goux said.

Chuck Goux, executive director of the Community Services Clearinghouse in Fort Smith, works at his desk Monday, July 17, 2017. [THOMAS SACCENTE//TIMES RECORD]

“We are in all public schools in the seven counties that we service, so that’s currently 88 public schools,” Goux said.

The organization serves Crawford, Sebastian, Scott, Franklin, and Logan counties in Arkansas, as well as LeFlore and Sequoyah counties in Oklahoma.

To receive food from the pantry, applicants must meet certain qualifications. Rose Gean, Clearinghouse board president, said the qualifications are in place because the Clearinghouse is considered a “hand-up” rather than a “hand-out.”

“And there’s different programs that are available for people that need those other kinds of assistance ... ,” Gean said. “We can guide them to other areas of assistance. ... We want to be the different form of assistance.”

In a media statement, Goux said policies ensure the funds entrusted to the organization go to those who are most in need. Requirements include having a picture ID, such as a state driver’s license, proof of address, such as a current utility bill, Social Security cards for every member of a household and proof of income for all able-bodied household members over the age of 18.

Employees of Siebenmorgen and Associates, the Fort Smith franchise of Ameriprise, bag groceries at Community Services Clearinghouse in Fort Smith. [STEVE MARQUEZ//TIMES RECORD]

“If they’re able to work, they need to be working,” Goux said. “That’s the criteria of our board for our organization. We’ve been doing this for 35 years. Our board has 21 members, and there was a need for elderly and disabled in this community who were on a fixed income, who had to make hard choices: co-pay on medicine, the heat or the electric bill or something of this nature to keep cool or keep warm, or buy food. We provide the food, and that’s what we’re here for.”

Goux said Clearinghouse caseworkers provide information to applicants about other support agencies in the area if they do not qualify for the pantry. However, the pantry does take what it calls “emergency one-time needs.”

“Somebody has a one-time need on an emergency, we help them, but that’s not on a continuous basis if they’re able-bodied and can work,” Goux said. “Limited resources require some adjustment.”

Clearinghouse has also been busy with its Meals for Kids Summer Program. Goux said the program delivered 5,388 bags of food so far to the 11 schools in Fort Smith serving free lunch this summer. The distribution of the bags takes place every Friday between 11:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. The program began June 9 and ends Aug. 4.

“Any child who shows up who’s under the age of 18 gets food and they get a backpack, no questions asked,” Goux said. “There’s no signup list. There’s no requirements. Nothing. That program costs (Clearinghouse) about $26,000 a summer.”

Fort Smith schools serving free lunch include Ballman, Barling, Carnall, Fairview, Howard, Morrison, Pike, Spradling, Sunnymede, Tilles and Trusty elementary schools. For hours and contact info, click here.