Many of the volunteers at the pantry are older and at-risk during the pandemic. They say “the need is greater than the worry.”
On most days, hungry families start lining up outside the Vickery Meadow Food Pantry an hour before opening time.
Vickery Meadow, an area of about 3 square miles mostly north of Northwest Highway and east of U.S. 75, is home to what is perhaps the most diverse population in Dallas.
Standing in line at the food pantry, you might find a refugee from Myanmar
The neighborhood has been among the first to be negatively impacted by the COVID-19 economy.
“I’m a licensed plumber,” a man named Alphonso said while standing in line. “I can’t find work.”
Unlike most of the people here, he will take home food for just him and his wife. Most everybody else has several dependents at home.
Even before the novel coronavirus, the Food Pantry, which is open three days a week, served about 30 families a day. It was a gathering place.
“The Hindus would come on one day, the Muslims another,” volunteer Diedra Cizon said.
With social distancing, there’s no more gathering, but the customer base has quadrupled.
Not all of the clients have cars, but those who do help their neighbors carry the food home.
There are milk and eggs, not always available, in addition to the pounds of produce, frozen meat, canned goods, fresh bread and orange juice that volunteers have pre-boxed before the pantry opens.
Most of the provisions come from the North Texas Food Bank.
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The food pantry itself is sustained by eight churches and faith-based charities. In addition to supporting the pantry financially, they’ve found creative ways to round out the pantry menu.
Temple Emmanu-El volunteers grow produce in their community garden for the pantry. Today it’s string beans, squash and peppers.
North Park Presbyterian Church came up with the idea of a “reverse food truck” three years ago. Instead of cooking meals for sale, the truck collects staples that Vickery Meadow needs to round out its menu and takes them to the pantry on a regular basis.
Before the pandemic, the church had an agreement to set up outside a Kroger store a few times a month. Shoppers could find out what the Pantry needed, buy it inside the store and drop it off at the food truck on their way out.
COVID-19 made that risky.
Now, church members donate at collection spots and the truck picks the staples up. Peanut butter, it turns out, is one of the most needed items.
A fearless band of volunteers keeps the Pantry running. Fearless because most of them are retirees whose age makes them among the most vulnerable to the coronavirus.
“We’re careful, we’re careful. We’re cognizant of the danger,” said 72-year-old Vicki Baab. “This is great place to work because of the community need. There’s just so much food deprivation in the community. And this is just a wonderful way to do just a little, just a little piece of the part.”
A different group of volunteers arrives an hour early each day to sort the collected food into boxes. By opening, the customers, many of whom are most likely to come in contact with the coronavirus, are ready to be served by the volunteers, who are statistically the most likely to die from it.
“The need is greater than the worry,” Baab said.
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