John Tyson Marks 20 Years of Holiday Donations to Watershed

As is its holiday custom, Tyson Foods Inc. of Springdale on Tuesday delivered 30,000 pounds of meat to Little Rock's Watershed Project to help with local hunger relief efforts.

It marked the 20th anniversary of Tyson's relationship with Watershed, located on Springer Boulevard just off I-440 in southeast Little Rock.

Tyson has donated 750,000 pounds of protein to Watershed since 1993 in a tradition started by the late Don Tyson, founder of the publicly traded meat processor. Each Christmas, Tyson delivers a load of food to the organization, which works with food banks in Little Rock and surrounding counties to feed the homeless and needy families as well as provide other important services including job training and adult education. 

This year's Tyson donation is expected to last about two weeks and will be distributed mostly in metro Little Rock and south Arkansas.

"That's how Christmas begins, when we see that Tyson truck on this property," Rev. Hezekiah Stewart, Watershed's director, said during an event marking the anniversary. "This connection goes way beyond the donation. If you ever want to see love in action, this is it. People who have, have closed the gap of the have-nots."

Tyson Chairman John Tyson helped deliver the food and said he is proud to carry on Tyson's relationship with Watershed. He noted the holiday theme of the gift but said Watershed represents a 12-month support program for people in need.

"It's pretty easy to follow my father, who started this relationship with the reverend," Tyson said. "The credit goes to the reverend and his board. I'm simply honored to be here and continue the tradition, and I'll challenge my kids to continue the tradition so we can be here 20 years from now."

Tyson said his company used to deliver two or three truckloads to Watershed at Christmas, when the agency's reach extended to most of Arkansas and even into Oklahoma. But other organizations now serve areas that used to rely on Watershed, and the agency focuses its efforts closer to central Arkansas. 

"This has been an annual tradition with Tyson, and we're happy to be able to feed a lot of people," Stewart said. "It's a wonderful day for us because donations have not been plentiful this year."

Tyson Foods works with Watershed on other projects and in 2011 started its KNOW Hunger campaign. Since 2000, it has donated more than 94 million pounds of meat to hunger-relief organizations. Tyson is one of the world's largest food production companies, employing about 115,000 people throughout the U.S. and 130 countries, including 23,300 Arkansas employees at 18 locations.

"It's about giving year-round, but the holidays are a special time of year," Tyson said.