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Tidwell’s Smiling Superpower Brings Joy to Hungry

W

We all needed an excuse to buy potato chips.

If you felt like someone might be watching you grab that bag of Lay’s Lightly Salted and Jalapeño Kettle Cooked chips from the grocery store chip aisle, you were right. It was probably the beautiful face of Fort Smith, Arkansas resident Charolette Tidwell, who is currently featured on the well-known brand’s packaging.

Her image, along with the story of the charitable organization she founded with her late husband, Sargent Lawrence Tidwell, is part of Lay’s “Smiles” campaign, highlighting 30 “everyday smilers” making a positive impact on their communities.

For the next six to eight weeks, Tidwell and the other 30 smiles will appear on millions of Lay’s potato chip bags sold in the U.S. The company will donate up to $1 million in proceeds from sales of these chips to Operation Smile, a nonprofit dedicated to helping children and adults worldwide receive cleft palate and cleft lip care and surgery. This is the “Smiles” campaign’s third year. Based in Plano, Texas, Lay’s has raised $1 million for Operation Smile in each of the first two years.

Tidwell’s participation with Lay’s is an opportunity to shine a light on her passion to take care of the vulnerable in Fort Smith. The Antioch for Youth and Family Center was established 21 years ago in the town that raised her. The center is focused on feeding the greater Fort Smith community. As COVID-19 shut down their efforts, Tidwell and Antioch had to get creative in providing for the seniors, disabled and children they often serve.

Tidwell didn’t even know about the competition to appear on the packaging of the popular snack food. With a background as a nurse and medical professional, she considers herself an advocate for healthy living and doesn’t even eat potato chips. But Tidwell knew it was divine intervention that her smile was assigned to a lightly salted kettle chip.

“A chip. A potato chip. Who would have thought it would bring all this?”

For nearly 30 years, Tidwell has served as a nurse and hospital administrator in the community. Additionally, for the past two decades she has partnered with the Fort Smith school district elementary schools, helping make sure that each week, every child goes home with a bag of fruits and vegetables.

Due to the pandemic throughout the spring and summer and now into the fall, Antioch has adjusted their regular distribution methods, including:

  • A drop-and-knock” delivery service to the most vulnerable in their community without transportation.
  • Food delivery partnership with local law enforcement.
  • “Antioch by Appointment” for one-on-one visits instead of mass distribution.
  • A “Pop-up in the Park” event each Wednesday where volunteers set up drive-thru food distribution with contactless service for the nearly 5,000 individuals they feed each week.

Photo courtesy of Antioch for Youth and Family Center

Food insecurity in Sebastian County actually scales more on the side of senior adults and those with disabilities. In a traditionally high manufacturing town, Fort Smith carries a 20% disability rate, 7 points higher than the national average. This statistic means that many of its citizens spend the last 20 to 30 years of their lives trying to live on less than $600 of income each month due to long term deterioration from manufacturing jobs. It’s an obstacle that a dedicated group of volunteers at Antioch tackle every day at the pantry.

Photo courtesy of Antioch for Youth and Family Center

A Personal Passion

Tidwell’s passion for Antioch is a torch she continues to carry for her late husband, a law enforcement officer, and stems from her own childhood experiences in poverty. While hunger is often a silent signal, Mrs. Tidwell found out in a grocery store encounter that due to its low cost, many seniors are purchasing cat food as their primary protein. Additionally, children go hungry on weekends when they are not receiving meals from school.

“We didn’t have much growing up, but what we had my mama taught me to share,” states Tidwell.

“I was taught you can be anything you want to be. You can do anything you want to do. But, you can’t leave anybody behind.”

Her mission to use retirement and her retirement funds to establish this program and feed her community is what shines the spotlight on her and drives her. It’s most likely what caught the attention of the Lay’s “Everyday Smiles” selection committee.

Tidwell was moved by the mission of the program and through her work every day at the pantry and as a nurse. She knows the impact that comes from providing dignity and confidence to another human. She was honored that her smile could help bring awareness and donations for Operation Smile.

Antioch is part of a more extensive network of distribution facilities under the River Valley Regional Foodbank, a Feeding America foodbank, that receives benefits of partners like the USDA’s commodities program “Go Fresh” boxes delivering farm products to families. The organization’s five priorities are: teaching nutrition, preparing meals, learning how to read labels, the five food groups, and consuming more healthy foods like eating the rainbow.

Many consider Tidwell an indispensable member of the community, and after the mayor gave her a key to the city, it seems that all agree.

Antioch is continuing to serve families with creative distribution methods keeping volunteers and families safe as they continue their ongoing work with mentoring, elder care and the community garden that offers STEM learning experiences for children. If you would like to partner, donate, volunteer or learn more about services, contact the center at 479-459-0669 for one-on-one appointments and distribution.

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Keisha (Pittman) McKinney lives in South Arkansas with her husband and sweet Boxer, Bailey and one-year-old son! Keisha is passionate about connecting people and building community, seeking solutions to the everyday big and small things, and encouraging others through the mundane, hard, and typical that life often brings. She put her communications background to work as a former Non-profit Executive Director, college recruiter and fundraiser, and Digital Media Director at a large church in Northwest Arkansas. Now she is using all of those experiences through McKinney Media Solutions and her blog @bigpittstop which includes daily adventures, cooking escapades, #bigsisterchats, the social justice cases on her heart, and all that she is learning as a #boymom!

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