Farmers Market donates to school lunch fund

The Bella Vista Farmers and Makers Market hit the ground running this year, and if opening day is any indication, the 2023 season could be the best one yet, not just from the standpoint of money coming in to the vendors, but also of money going out to help others.

In its return to One Mercy Way, the market opened with more space and more vendors, as well as a manager who is not only eager to help the vendors be as successful as possible, but one who also is determined to help others benefit from the success.

The first beneficiaries are students of Cooper Elementary School.

"I believe the easiest way to change the world is to help children," said first-year Bella Vista Farmers and Makers Market Manager Becky Parmelee who, near the end of the market's first day, presented a donation in the amount of $595 to Cooper Elementary School for its unpaid lunch fund.

"This helps pay for the lunches of the kids who can't afford it," she said. "The office staff never says 'no' to those students with overdrawn balances. They feed the kids all the time. So those kids who are maybe $300 or even $500 in debt, the staff has to figure out a way to cover that by the end of the year."

According to Parmelee, $500 was given by the market with the remaining $95 coming from contributions made from the market's opening day shoppers.

Parmelee said giving to the fund is something Mercy-Bella Vista and its employees committed to do this year. And since the organization is not charging the market rent for the use of its parking lot during the 2023 season, Parmelee said the market will use funds it would have used to pay rent to help others, namely children.

"Mercy's trying to pick up some of that lunch debt for those kids and we want to help, too," she said. "I'm very excited about this. It's wonderful. And not only that, but the shoppers pitched in, too. It's important to make sure kids have a chance to eat."

Landi Dumes, the counselor at Cooper Elementary, said "First and foremost, thank you so much for the lunch balance donation! This will alleviate the stress for many of our families that may not have the financial means to pay off their child's lunch accounts."

She added, "Although we have a free and reduced lunch program some families don't qualify even though they are in need. This donation covers over half of our lunch balances. And with other donations from our amazing Bella Vista community, families who are truly in need should end the school year with no negative balances. Once again, thank you to Mercy-Bella Vista and the amazing Bella Vista community for your continuous love and support that you show Cooper. It doesn't go unnoticed and it is greatly appreciated."

The Farmers and Makers Market will continue helping others in other ways throughout the season.

"So for my marketing dollars, I've put $500 back for Mother's Day and $500 for Father's Day and the first 100 kids that come to the information booth on those days will get a $5 token to spend at the market," she said. "In July, we're giving $1,000 to the library, so 200 kids will get $5 tokens when they finish their summer reading program. Then they'll have four months to come to the market and learn what the market's about and spend their money and buy their present."

She said, "So we'll have $3,400 to give to kids since we won't have to spend it on rent."

The market has already used some of its funds to put picnic tables on the grounds and is planning to add bicycle racks as well as providing support for the community garden, which is located between the market's setup location and the soccer fields.

"We just want to keep doing what's good for the community," said Parmelee.

  photo  Submitted photo