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With Christmas right around the corner, it’s a good time to reflect on some of the giving that has occurred during the past few weeks.
One of the most impressive moments of the holidays came on Thanksgiving Day, with the hardworking crew at The Dels putting in overtime to feed 967 residents at their Rio Burrito location.
Mark Bertel, owner of The Dels, and his staff have spent the last five years dedicating themselves to feeding those in need during the holiday season. To date, The Dels has fed some 1,740 people since Bertel began serving Thanksgiving meals for families in need in 2019.
Bertel, who is a lifelong native of Mountain Home, said he started his Thanksgiving tradition after noticing how much food insecurity there was in Mountain Home during the holiday season.
“I know there’s a lot of food insecurity in the area that kind of gets overlooked because we also have a thriving tourist town and people with strong financial positions living here,” Bertel said. “But there’s more people that are really just working class, trying to make ends meet that need a meal once in a while. I always say, Mountain Home can look gold, but there’s all kinds of silver behind it that we don’t look at sometimes.”
The Dels’ Thanksgiving meal includes smoked turkey and ham from Holy Smokes BBQ, as well as green beans, stuffing, mac and cheese, and gravy from The Dels’ various restaurants. The meals are first come, first served, with no limits on how much a family can walk away with on Thanksgiving.
Bertel said he does not require guests to sign in or sign up to receive a meal. All meals are given away for free, with no questions asked.
“We’ve never had anybody abuse it,” Bertel said. “If they need food for a week, we don’t want to make them feel bad for asking.”
According to the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance, there are currently 134,690 children in Arkansas who are food insecure and 555,324 adults who are food insecure.
In Baxter County, roughly 1,330 children, or 18% of all children living in the county, are currently living in a food insecure household. Of all children living in Baxter County, some 86% are eligible for federal nutrition programs.
The county’s annual family food budget shortfall in 2021 came in at $4,239,000, with the average meal in Baxter County costing $3.57. Those numbers have risen over the past two years, due to inflation. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the cost of food-at-home (grocery store purchases) has risen by 2.1 percent since Oct. 2022. Food-away-from-home costs have risen by 5.4 percent in the same time period.
Overall, food prices have increased a total of 5.8 percent since 2021. Prices are expected to increase to six percent by the end of December. The U.S. Department of Agriculture expects prices to continue to rise by another 2.9 percent through next year.
If you or your family is struggling with food insecurity, please visit the Food Bank of North Central Arkansas to see what assistance programs you may qualify for.
“I want to thank my staff for donating their time,” Bertel said. “They really want to be involved in this. All in all, we had 14 people staffed.”