Large numbers of children at Lonoke are going to bed hungry each night, Lonoke Area Chamber of Commerce members learned at the Jan. 9 meeting. Doing something about it could be as easy as having a clean place to hand out bagged lunches, Buster Lackey, Arkansas Department of Human Services, director of health and nutrition programs, said.

Members also heard of events being planned for the Gina Cox Center and other local interest.

Chamber president Leanna Rich conducted the meeting, held at the Lonoke Depot.

Lackey told of the food programs being supported by ADH, specifically the Summer Feeding Program and the After School At Risk Program. Each of the programs is designed to feed children through the schools.

In Arkansas, one in three children go to bed hungry, Lackey said. "That is absolutely no meal, nothing in the refrigerator, go to sleep with nothing," he said. There are 220,000 children receiving free and reduced price lunches in the state; the 2013 Summer Feeding Program provided 3.7 million meals, Lackey said. "That was just lunch;" 98,000 children were fed each day, he said.

Government agencies, non-profit or faith-based organizations, school districts can take part in the programs, Lackey said. "We will reimburse you for feeding kids breakfast and lunch, or just lunch, whichever you want to do," he said.

At Risk After School combines snacks with tutoring programs, Lackey said.

"I hear all the time … ‘we really don’t have that problem here, we don’t have hungry kids in our neighborhood,’ You would be surprised how many people in your own neighborhoods that do not have food in their refrigerators," Lackey remarked.

These are U.S. Department of Agriculture programs, funded through the Farm Bill, Lackey said.

Any group interested in participating in the programs can contact ADH, Lackey said. There are 114 school districts using the Seamless Summer Program, he said.

Identification of the children is not part of the program, Lackey said. "[Children] show up, you feed them, and we pay you," he said.

While the programs pay only for children, there are provisions to cover adults who come with the children through other means, such as grants, Lackey said.

Also, there are feeding programs available for adult daycare, respite programs or special care operations, Lackey said.

Signup to take part in the summer programs begins in February and will go through March, Lackey said. There would be an inspection of facilities needed to ensure there is the capability to safely provide food.

"We can work through churches, non-profit organizations, some city parks and recreation departments have started picking up on the programs," Lackey said.

In another subject, Lonoke Schools athletic director Nathan Morris said that bids have been made to hold the regional and state basketball tournaments at Lonoke, in the Gina Cox Center. "We will know next Thursday night," he said. The tournament would be March 3–8, "If we are fortunate enough to get it," he said.

While all the gate charges would go to the state, the city will get promotion and a large influx of visitors with the business that comes with such a large number of people, Morris said. "Full hotels and full restaurants," he said.

There have been bids submitted for the state volleyball tournament, and the regional baseball and softball tournaments," Morris said.

"We’ve never had such a facility. We’ve got [the Gina Cox Center], we want to show it off," he said.

The school, itself, does not earn money with such events, Morris said. "We are promoting us, in this room."

FBLA member Colby Hartley told of the holiday canned food drive. The donations were sufficient to supply 26 families; Hartley thanked the Chamber members for their support. Also, FBLA members are preparing for the District 5 FBLA conference, Jan. 29 at UCA, and are planning to compete in several events.

Lt. Tom Lanfford, 19 AW chief of safety and Base Community Council representative, told of the visit to the Air Base by Air Mobility Command commander Gen. Paul Selva. "[Selva] liked everything he saw," Langford said.

Delivery of another, new, J-model C-130 is expected next month. Many Air Base personnel are at Pope A.F.B. in North Carolina on a joint exercise with the Army, testing Army preparations.

Bill Ryker, promotion director, announced the Chamber Chili Supper, Feb. 8, will be held at the Gina Cox Center at the High School.

Ryker also told of changes being made at the Baptist Health Clinic, formerly the Anderson Clinic. Baptist Health representatives will be at the February Chamber meeting to explain the changes, he said.

Hampton Inns have scheduled their opening in April; Waffle House could begin construction in February, Ryker said.

Progress on the new interchange has slowed because of weather, which was expected, Ryker said. "They need about two weeks of 41-degree ground temperature to where they can finish laying the asphalt for the approaches to entrance and exit ramp," he said.

With the right temperatures, it would take about two more months to complete the overpass. After the new overpass is completed, the old overpass will be dismantled; the dirt from the old approaches will be used to re-fill borrow pits formed when the new approaches were built, Ryker said.

Rich said the Everyday Hero award would be delayed to the February meeting.