Partygoers stay home for Potluck
By Libby Smith
It all started with chicken takeout.
Little Rock resident and community volunteer Florence Haut stopped by Kentucky Fried Chicken to pick up some finger-lickin’ good chicken for a family gathering. She noticed a large tray of chicken set aside. The clerk told her that it was unsold and not available for sale. Since it would be wasted, she offered to take it to a homeless shelter, where the leftover chicken would surely be enjoyed.
Haut said at the time that it took forever to get rid of the chicken smell in her car, but the idea for a food rescue organization had been hatched.
Potluck Food Rescue for Arkansas was incorporated in 1989, thus realizing the dream of Haut, a handful of volunteers from the Arkansas Interfaith Council and members of the Junior League of Little Rock. The fledgling organization’s first office was on the campus of Our House. It later moved to the Rice Depot on Asher Avenue. Eight years ago, Potluck found a permanent– and very visible — home on West Broadway in North Little Rock.
Shortly after the establishment of Potluck, the conversation turned to fundraising events as a way to supplement the funds needed to cover operating expenses. A Potluck member suggested inviting the public to not come to a party but stay home and enjoy a night off from socializing (such is the spring events calendar). The invitation would invite them instead to contribute to Potluck the amount of money they would have spent if they had attended a fundraiser. No dressing up. No smiling all night. No banquet dinner. Just make a donation to Potluck and stay home.
Would such a non-event be a success?
Twenty-three years later, Potluck is still “hosting” the party.
The invitation for this year’s “Not at All a Ball” has no date or time. That is up to the attendee. The place is “your favorite chair or spot on the sofa.” Ticket price is “whatever your generosity will allow.” Attire is “none whatsoever.”
Dr. Laura Lamps and Paul Ward, who are a husband/wife, doctor/lawyer team, are co-chairing this non-event. Asked what they would be doing for the Potluck party (in addition to writing a check), Lamps admitted, “Probably eating dinner and sitting on the couch with the dogs watching television.” She hopes all participants will do the same thing.
Last year’s “stay-at-home” party brought in $26,000. Over the 22 years that Potluck has sponsored this fundraiser, more than $500,000 has been donated.
An Auburn, Ala., native, Lamps graduated from Davidson (N.C.) College and Vanderbilt University Medical School in Nashville, Tenn., and moved to Little Rock in 1998 to accept a job as a pathologist at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. She and Ward met in 2006.
Ward was reared in Little Rock and graduated from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock School of Law (now the William H. Bowen School of Law). After several years of private practice, Ward joined the legal department at the Arkansas Public Service Commission from which he retired in 2010.
Influenced by his family, especially his sister, Caroline Fox, Ward learned about Potluck and its mission.
“Caroline was a member of the board, so the whole family had to be involved,” said Ward, who is a past member of the board of directors and an 18-year volunteer for the organization.
Lamps realized that marrying Ward meant marrying a Potluck family. She and Ward have volunteered as a couple, and Lamps happily will take her place on the Potluck board in May.
“It’s a great and very rewarding organization and a dedicated group of people, trying to do something about hunger,” she says.
Potluck is the only organization in Arkansas which helps to alleviate “hunger by bridging the gap between excess food and the hungry.”
Potluck executive director Carol Herzog says that, in its first year of operation, it collected approximately 23,000 pounds of reusable food. Potluck on average now collects about 17,000 pounds of food a day. Since the food collected is perishable (much of it frozen), one of the most important gifts Potluck received during the early years was a “gently used” refrigerator truck given by Tyson Foods Inc.
Today, Potluck employs two drivers and delivers food to about seven agencies. Herzog says that at the North Little Rock facility, “we have 17 floor freezers, a 3,000-cubic-feet walk-in freezer and a 4,000-cubic-feet walk-in cooler.” (For comparison, the size of an average refrigerator is about 26 cubic feet.) The large storage space also contains rows and rows of metal shelving, case upon case of canned goods and a forklift. In the middle of the chaos is Herzog’s “conference room,” a 6-foot-square metal table surrounded by tall stools.
From this industrial-looking building, Potluck provides 14,000 meals per week. The meals are distributed by nonprofit agencies, including homeless shelters, senior citizen centers, soup kitchens, food pantries, emergency shelters for women, and Kids’ Pantry programs.
The excess/unserved/unsold food rescued by Potluck is donated by restaurants, hotels, caterers, cafeterias, hospitals, farmers markets and other entities.
Food donors are protected from any civil or criminal liability arising from any donation by the federal Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act, which was enacted in 1996.
For more information about the Spring Fling non-event, the work of Potluck Food Rescue or to make a donation, call (501) 371-0303. The organization is housed at 621 W. Broadway in North Little Rock, and the website is potluckfoodrescue.org.
In the fall, Potluck will have a real party at their headquarters called Buffet on Broadway. Mark the calendar for 6-8 p.m. Sept. 24. Local restaurants prepare the food, and Glazer’s donates the libations. The Joe Vick Quartet will provide the music. Lamps and Ward say it’s a party that’s not to be missed.