The Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance has announced Saturday, July 27 as the official date for this year’s Watermelon Crawl event. During this one-day service event, volunteers pick fresh watermelons in Scott to be donated to food banks across central Arkansas.

“We are so excited to finally know when the watermelons will be ready for harvest,” said Amy Bell, communications director for Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance. “There are over five acres of melons, so we are hoping this year will have the biggest volunteer turnout yet with lots of people showing up July 27 ready to have some fun and give back to their communities.”

In addition to serving their communities, volunteers will enjoy live music, a free Watermelon Crawl T-shirt, lunch and activities such as a watermelon-eating contest.

Volunteers are encouraged to bring close-toed shoes, sunscreen and gloves to the Watermelon Crawl. To learn more, register as a volunteer and find a map to Scott Melons & More, visit the AHRA website.

Ahead of the event, we talked with Michelle Shope, the director of food sourcing and logistics for the AHRA, about what she looks forward to with this year's event and how the event has grown over the years. 

When did you start working for the AHRA? 

Michelle Shope: I have worked with the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance since its inception, starting in August 2005. I am the only person to have held the position of director of food sourcing and have been here longer than anyone else on staff.

What led you to the work you're doing now?

Michelle Shope: Food service is something I’ve been doing my entire career. To be able to do this every day and help people in need, rather than focusing on making money, is very fulfilling. I don’t think I could go back to the for-profit world. 

What's one of the most rewarding parts of working at the AHRA?

Michelle Shope: The people. I get to spend my day surrounded by people who truly care about the welfare of others. The food banks, food pantries and most importantly the clients are what make my job most rewarding. The people we serve could be any one of us — a missed paycheck, falling behind on bills, losing a job — suddenly you need help. I believe we should treat everyone with the same dignity and respect that we would want if we were in their shoes. It’s a humbling experience. 

How would you describe the Watermelon Crawl to someone who's never been?

Michelle Shope: There’s a great fellowship that happens at the Watermelon Crawl. We all work hard for a bit, get a little sweaty and dirty, but then we take a break, eat lunch together, play games and enjoy the band. It’s a "feel good” volunteer event where you get to enjoy the fruits of your labor (literally!).

Beyond the fun, volunteers pick fresh watermelons to give back to local food banks, pantries and shelters. What sparked the idea for this festival and how has it grown over the years?

Michelle Shope: We had a growing amount of people who wanted to volunteer in the program, but it’s not always easy to fit it in their schedule. The majority of our gleaning events happen with very little notice throughout the year. When he first started donating to the Alliance, Brandon Chapman was farming melons full time. He came on board to run our gleaning program in 2016. He now grows this patch of watermelons just for this event. It’s a great opportunity for us to get the community involved in a time of year that kids are out of school, so you can bring the entire family out for a volunteer day. This event started with us joking about the "Watermelon Crawl" song and has now grown into an annual festival we all look forward to! 

Tell me about the other fun stuff happening at the fest.

Michelle Shope: The most popular game every year is the watermelon-eating contest. We divide into kids and adults. You have a partner that hands you the melon slices because you can’t use your hands. It’s equal parts delicious, fun and messy! We do an actual watermelon crawl race, where you have to roll a melon on your hands and knees. We have a watermelon relay race with teams of four. And this year we’re adding a seed-spitting contest. This is the first year the Salty Dogs will be playing and we’re thrilled to add their classic-country tunes to the festival.   

What's your favorite part of the Watermelon Crawl?

Michelle Shope: The look on the volunteers’ faces when we load an entire semi-truck full of watermelons. They’re always stunned at the amount of food we gather in a short amount of time. It’s worth a couple of hours of hard work and sweat to step back and see 40,000 pounds of watermelon that will be distributed to food pantries and end up on the plates of our neighbors in need. 

 

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