With New Mobile Food Pantry, A Dallas Nonprofit Plans To Feed More People
This summer, a Dallas nonprofit is launching a mobile food pantry to reach more people who may not be able to get to a brick-and-mortar food location.
The Wilkinson Center’s food pantry sits in a non-descript brick strip mall in East Dallas, wedged between a thrift store and a Hair-N-Beauty Supply. On Friday morning, the parking lot outside was filled with hit songs from the 80s and a crowd of the nonprofit's employees, donors and well-wishers.
Standing in front of a shiny new refrigerated truck decked out with pictures of adorable children posing with produce, the center’s executive director, Anne Reeder, unveiled the new mobile complement to its brick-and-mortar food pantry.
The service is called Pantry2Go.
“This truck is going to start rolling next month, taking food to schools, to senior centers, to different places where it’s difficult to get food,” she said.
Summers often strain the budget for families with school-aged kids who rely on free meals at school. The summer can also drive up electricity bills, stretching already-tight budgets even further.
“We know in the summer, that kids are going to be home, and when they're home, they eat more. They need to eat more. They’re growing,” said Maria Powers, who heads up the center’s food and support services. “Basic food should not be something a child lacks."
At the same time, it can be hard for busy parents who often work multiple jobs to make it into the food pantry, so the new mobile version will start popping up monthly at the local Young Men's Leadership Academy at Fred F. Florence Middle School, to serve students and their families.
In August, the center will also start distributing food at a nearby senior center, serving another population at risk of going hungry.
“A lot of our seniors are homebound, or they can’t get out. If they can get out, they can’t carry their groceries to their apartment,” Powers said.
Each family will get a box of shelf-stable foods and a box of produce, meat and other perishables; it’s about a week’s worth of food, Powers said.
The effort took some serious learning on the part of the Wilkinson Center’s team, Powers said. They had to figue out where to buy a refrigerated truck and lockable gas cap, while sorting out amps from volts to ensure the food will stay fresh.
The goal is to serve nearly 6,000 individuals more than 345,000 meals over the next three years with the mobile food pantry. The food is supplied primarily through the North Texas Food Bank, with additional donations from area grocers.
The Pantry2Go program has been in the works since 2019, but it’s launching after the pandemic upended the finances of many lower- and middle-income families. The center’s food pantry typically served about 800 families a month before the pandemic. After COVID-19 hit, they saw that number jump to 2,000 families.
While the numbers have gone back down, Powers said that with so many families still struggling to make ends meet, a free week’s worth of groceries helps alleviate pressure on tight family budgets by providing them with a basic need.
“It’s income support. If you have to buy food and you have to pay an electric bill, we provide the food so you can pay the electric bill,” Powers said.
In addition to food and other financial support, the nonprofit offers job skills classes, helps people get high school graduate equivalent degrees and provides financial literacy education.
The food pantry serves residents of Pleasant Grove and surrounding neighborhoods in east and southeast Dallas, but its education programs are open to any Dallas County resident.
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