State Farm Neighborhood Assist ® 2018

Merrill Community Center Kitchen Renovation

Increase the revenues of the City government, enabling it to provide the level of services expected

The Merrill Community Center has served neighborhood children by providing a safe space with a number of constructive activities. In addition, the Merrill Community Center offers after school and summer meals to serve approximately 120 children daily. Despite the volume of children being served, the meals are not prepared on the site of the building due to the kitchen being in disrepair.

At this time, a local non-profit is partnering with the Arkansas Special Nutrition At-Risk program through September 30 to provide free meals to children up to 18 years old. These meals are prepared at another location and transported to the Center. If the Center's kitchen were to be renovated, meals could be prepared on-sight along with cooking demonstrations to teach children and their families how to prepare healthy vegetables from the community garden. These lessons will then be transferred and implanted into the homes of generations because of the extended programing via the State Farm grant.

Community and government leaders are currently fundraising to renovate the entire Community Center. The State Farm Grant of $25,000 will be of significant assistance and provide an immediate impact on the kitchen renovation phase. Specifically, a new commercial cooking range, refrigerator, cabinets, flooring and other necessary amenities will facilitate the ability to provide better nourishment and programming to families that frequent the center.

The renovated kitchen will need to meet health department codes. Equipment meeting these standards will cost more than kitchen equipment for a home and is expensive. The grant will provide for a large percentage of the cost which will be a tremendous help.

There are several leaders in the Pine Bluff community working on making the building renovation a reality. The children in the neighborhood deserve a helping hand to help improve their quality of life by the provision of meals when they may not otherwise receive.

The cooking demonstrations will help teach the children how to prepare meals with foods they may not be familiar with and therefore tend to avoid. The hands-on activities and live food preparation demonstrations will encourage curiosity, improve math and reading skills by learning to follow recipes, which will help make the children better students.

Most of these students have absentee parents/custodians and need additional structured development skills to improve their health and social skills.

There are many people whose lives have been affected by the Merrill Center over the years. Their testimonials are heart wrenching and these people continue to give back to the community through their volunteerism and mentorships. The continuation of the Merrill Center's programs will invoke a sense of hope in the children who will be able to become better citizens and want to show others there is a chance to be in a better place.