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Food Pantry a Holiday Blessing

By Jeff Parish

Brad Wendling & John Kirkman

About 250 families who might have otherwise gone hungry for the holidays got groceries Thursday thanks to a regional partnership with the Downtown Food Pantry.

“It really is a blessing,” Marie Caesar said. “I’m doing it for my mom. She’s 95, and they cut her food stamps. She wasn’t getting that much to begin with. This really kicks in and helps.”

The pantry is working with North Texas Food Bank (NTFB) as a “rural hub and spoke” in a pilot program that allows NTFB to use the pantry to distribute to surrounding communities.

Downtown Food Pantry had been purchasing food at retail cost. They reached out to NTFB to help serve more people. North Texas Food Bank invested about $90,000 installing a new refrigeration unit.

 The partnership stretches the pantry’s money a lot further – a dollar spent with NTFB can buy three meals.

“We saw the need,” said John Kirkman, director of the Downtown Food Pantry. Like all pantry workers, he’s a volunteer. “We were feeding more and more people. We were running out of financial resources. You cannot run a food pantry of this magnitude without the North Texas Food Bank. It’s impossible.”

The Food Pantry’s distribution with NTFB has nearly doubled each year since 2009. In November, the pantry served 1,978 families, compared to 909 families the previous November.

Downtown Food Pantry has been in business for about three years. The operation started in a 150 square foot classroom serving about 100 families a month. They moved to a 1,200 square foot facility at First Methodist Church, then to the current 8,700-square-foot at 124 W. Cherry in April.

“I think it’s great what they do here,” volunteer Waylan White said as he helped Caesar pick out items to put in her basket. “It’s for the community.”

In Dallas County, NTFB operates an “urban hub and spoke” with food distributed to 38 sites that in turn redistribute to smaller organizations.

“Through our urban hub and spoke, we’re able to provide 21 meals to each person every time they visit,” said Brad Wendling, senior manager of program services. “We’ve been able to move food into communities where there are no food pantries.”

At the local food pantry, each person gets 10 pounds when they visit twice a month. Combined with the fresh fruit and produce the new refrigeration unit allows, that comes to about 10 meals each time.

The pantry is set up grocery-store style, complete with shelves, a refrigeration unit for dairy and other cold items, baskets and checkout lanes.  Clients get a small sheet of paper that shows how much food they can get based on family size, broken down into vegetables, fruit, juice, protein, grain, cereal and eggs.

“It provides dignity to the clients in a basic grocery store environment,” Wending said. “It helps our agency store cold items here.”

It’s a touch the clients appreciate.

“It helps people out that don’t have food,” Sharon Davis said as she shopped. “I enjoy coming here.”

Davis represents one of 2,000 families the serves each month – which translates to roughly 6,000 people.

“You walk in the front door, say you live in Lamar County, give us your name address and date of birth,” Kirkman said. “We do not say no.”

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