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Chamber speaker touts hunger programs

JONESBORO — As the chief executive of the nation’s largest domestic hunger-relief organization, Claire Babineaux-Fontenot understands what millions of Americans face.

It’s in her roots.

Through birth, adoption and foster care, her parents raised a family of 108 children near Opelousas, La.

Babineaux-Fontenot told her story Thursday to members of the Jonesboro Regional Chamber of Commerce.

“I learned respect for my elders growing up in rural America,” she said. “I learned about hard work. I learned about dedication and service. But unfortunately, I learned about hunger.

“The typical path to becoming a member of my family was through some form or forms of neglect and abuse. So my whole entire life, I’ve understood.”

Babineaux-Fontenot joined Feeding America, the nationwide network of 200 food banks and 60,000 food pantries and meals programs after previously serving executive vice president and global treasurer for Walmart, and leading one of the largest law firms in the South.

She said her current job is an homage to her parents and her roots.

Feeding America serves meals to millions of Americans each year.

“In 2020, our estimates are that over 60 million people turned to the charitable relief system for help,” Babineaux-Fontenot said. “I want you to think about what I am about to say, and I want you to feel pride that you are part of this. In 2020, in that calendar year, our network provided 6.1 billion meals – 6.1 billion meals.”

She said from July 2020 and June 30 this year, the number of meals totaled 6.5 billion.

“You deserve to be proud because you’re proud of that,” Babineaux-Fontenot said.

She said that’s because of the leadership of Christie Jordan and the Food Bank of Northeast Arkansas.

“And there are moms and dads who tonight will not have to ask questions about how it is they will be able to feed their children,” she explained. “And there are elders in your community who will not have to make the tough decisions between prescription drugs, or light bill or food.”

Thursday’s event was the 106th annual meeting of the chamber.

Lisa Golden was installed as the new chairman of the chamber’s board of directors, succeedding Russ Hannah.

Brett Welch, left, and Kevin James, both with Cynergy Rehab Group of Jonesboro, prepare chicken and ribs for their smoker Thursday afternoon outside of Centennial Bank Stadium as they get ready for their tailgate tent before the Arkansas State Red Wolves football game against the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers.


Poinsett County festivals set for Saturday

POINSETT COUNTY — The 45th Annual Arkansas Rice Festival is set for Saturday in downtown Weiner. The festival, celebrating Arkansas rice farming and the harvest, is held annually the second weekend in October in conjunction with National Rice Promotion Month.

Events kick off at 8 a.m. with a 5k race. Signup for the race begins at 7 a.m. The Rice Festival Parade will begin at 11 a.m. At noon the Rice Tasting Lunch at Catholic Hall will begin. It will continue until 2 p.m.

The Weiner dog race will also begin at noon, and the first-ever Weiner eating contest will be at 4 p.m., both at the contest stage.

Musical highlights will include the Vikki McGee Band at 6 p.m. and Paul Thorn Band at 8 p.m. on the main stage; and Cory Jackson at 2 p.m. and Marybeth Byrd at 3 p.m. on stage 2.

There will also be a free carnival, car show and art exhibit.

For a full schedule of events visit www.arkansasricefestival.com.

The 9 a.m. Duck Festival Parade will usher in the 38th Annual Wild Duck Festival at the Trumann Recreation Complex, 16179 Pecan Grove Road. Admission to the festival is free.

The midway will open at 9:30 a.m, with vendor booths, bounce houses, rides and pony rides.

The Wild Duck Festival Senior Softball Tournament kicks off at 10 a.m.

A duck calling contest sponsored by the St. Francis Lake Association will begin at 1 p.m. on the outdoor stage. Sign-up will be available at the organization booth on the midway until 12:30 p.m. There is a $10 registration fee.

The Arkansas Foundation of Medical Care and the Arkansas Department of Health will be offering free Johnson and Johnson COVID-19 vaccines at the event from 9:30 a.m. to 7 a.m. for those ages 18 years and older.

For more details about the festival visit www.trumann chamber.org.

St. Bernards opens mental health call center

JONESBORO — St. Bernards Behavioral Health announced Wednesday it has launched its 24/7 Call Center to provide informational resources for behavioral and mental health-related services and questions.

The Call Center – staffed by licensed health professionals in confidential settings – will guide callers to available behavioral health resources.

SBBH Assistant Vice President Kevin Byron made the announcement as part of National Depression and Mental Health Screening Month, saying this type of regional, around-the-clock service has not existed in Northeast Arkansas.

“Many people who call us have tried sifting through information online, and it quickly grew overwhelming for them,” Byron said. “Our goal with the Call Center is provide the community with a practical resource on taking the next step toward better mental health.”

Byron said the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of readily available mental health services.

“COVID really exacerbated a prevalent crisis,” Byron said. “St. Bernards immediately recognized a need to expand service delivery by meeting people where they are, even if they have no established history with us. The new Call Center demonstrates our commitment to that cause.”

Rebecca Brubaker, executive director of the Crisis Center of Arkansas, agreed.

“Before COVID we had 296 calls a month,” she said. “Since COVID we have 1,850 calls a month.”

“It looks like this Call Center will be a great addition in the Jonesboro area for those seeking mental health resources,” Brubaker said in an email. “Our hotline staff will have the information available to them when we get calls from the Jonesboro area so that we can make referrals to the Call Center.”

Dr. Dan Johnson, a neuropsychologist with Clinical Neuropsych and Associates in Jonesboro, said the Call Center is a much-needed addition to the Jonesboro area.

“I’m glad to see we’re able to implement the Call Center,” Johnson said. “It’s a huge win for the mental health community for Jonesboro and the surrounding area.”

He said callers may be wanting to avoid a crisis situation.

Brian Rader, chief strategic officer for Alleviant Health Center, said a 24-hour, seven-days a week call center is a needed service for Northeast Arkansas.

“I think it’s needed everywhere,” Rader said. “Anxiety doesn’t happen 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. For veterans with PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) the trigger comes on later in the evening when they have time to reflect.”

He said about 1-in-6 emergency room cases involve people with mental health issues. Rader added that insurance companies don’t reimburse hospitals for mental health cases as much as they do for other medical issues.

Rader said depression and stress can create medical problems involving heart and pulmonary issues. He said having a place to call is urgently needed.

“If they have the courage to pick up the damn phone, there should be someone to answer,” he said.

Byron said St. Bernards designed the Call Center to operate as a supplemental resource alongside crisis services and hotlines.

“The Call Center exists to educate the general public on available behavioral health options, so it works in tandem with crisis services,” Byron said. “But I can’t stress the following enough: If any person experiences thoughts of harm or suicide, we urge them to go directly to the Emergency Department or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). They can get the best stabilization help there.”

The SBBH 24/7 Call Center is available immediately to assist with behavioral health questions at (870) 207-0440.

Lisa Reynolds places a shelter dog back into a kennel Wednesday at the Northeast Arkansas Humane Society in Jonesboro. The organization is sponsoring the “Bissell Empty the Shelter” event from Tuesday through Saturday. The event is an opportunity for potential pet owners to save money on adoption fees. During the event, fees are $25 for dogs and $15 for cats. Normally, adoption fees are $200 for dogs and $75 for cats.

Empty the shelter

Fatal fires hit Jonesboro hard in 2021

JONESBORO — The number of fire deaths in Jonesboro during 2021 is at five, the highest number in several years, Assistant Fire Chief Martin Hamrick said Thursday.

On Feb. 14, firefighters responded to a smoke detection alarm at 3407 Bolt Blvd. at 3:12 a.m.

Barbara Carole Smith-Schlitt, 76, of Jonesboro, died in the fire.

On Feb. 17, Jonesboro Sanitation Director Donny Gibson, 68, of Jonesboro, crashed his city-issued Dodge Ram 1500, officials say. He died in the ensuing fire, Fire Marshal Jason Wills said.

On Sept. 3, Geraldine Colman, 62, died in a house fire at 811 Huntington Ave. A 1-year-old female also died in the blaze, Brett Bassham, a fire department battalion chief, said at the time.

A Jonesboro fire marshal said the fire originated from a stove in the downstairs apartment.

On Sept. 9, a man died in a house fire in the 3400 block of Parkwood Road.

The cause of that fire remains under investigation, Wills said.

“They’re still working on it,” Hamrick said.

“There’s no real pattern with it,” Hamrick said of the fatal fires this year. “There’s nothing to point to why it happens.”

He said the Fire Department offers free smoke detectors to those who want one. The department also offers free batteries and will install detectors in people’s homes.

Hamrick said cooking fires figure prominently as the start of many house fires.

“Don’t leave cooking unattended,” he said. “And make sure to turn the stove off when finished.”

As colder weather moves closer, Hamrick said space heaters can be a fire hazard.

“Maintain space away from materials when using a space heater,” he said.