Charlotte Tidwell, a retired nurse, is touching the lives of nearly 7,000 Fort Smith, Arkansas residents every month by using her pension fund. Tidwell could have propped up her feet, chose to travel, or do any other range of activities after retiring. However, she feels like it was her calling to touch the lives of thousands with what she has to offer.
Six days out of the week, Tidwell serves at the food pantry for no payment. Yearly, she gives out nearly 500,000 meals to those in need, and there are many who are hurting in her town because of layoffs from the closure of a local factory.
“The community that I was raised in did this,” Tidwell said of her charity work. “My mom did it. The folks at the church did it. The nuns at the school that I went to elementary school did it. We were mentored into this kind of work. Service was something that I’ve always been involved in.”
“I was raised in poverty, and I understand all the issues that go along with not having enough money,” she added.
The former nurse established the program in 2000 after finding out that there were elderly people eating pet food for sustenance. Arkansas has the worst hunger rates out of all the states in the U.S. About 20 percent of the state’s population are uncertain of where their next meal may come from.
“Allowing the generation that raised us to go to the point that they’re eating cat food and dog food—I can’t imagine that,” Tidwell said to a local news station. “I think it’s a forgotten population.”
The River Valley Regional Food Bank hands out meals that are meant to last an individual for at least a month. People stand in line to receive their bundles of food, which includes necessities like bread, fruit, vegetables, and some meats.
“To look someone in the eyes that is desperate for something that is so basic as a meal is crippling,” said food bank volunteer, Ken Kupchick. “It’s absolutely crippling.”
“I’ve talked to many a people and a lot of them say they could not do it without these pantries,” Teddy Clemmons, a food bank worker, said. “I mean they really could not. They say they couldn’t make ends meet at all.”
If you ask Tidwell, she has found her calling in life and wouldn’t change anything about her retirement. “Oh, I have such joy. And they hug, they love to be hugged, and they hug me and I hug them. It’s just wonderful. It’s wonderful. They’re so grateful,” she shared.