Feeding Hope: Local Food Pantry Offers Edible Aid
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Just a few blocks away from Henderson Hall, the home of Student Health Services, stands the First Presbyterian Church that houses a life-saving service: the Commerce Food Pantry.
“We serve about between 30 to 40 families each week,” Food Pantry Board President Isabel Davis, who has worked for the pantry for four years, said. “And it usually adds to over 300 people a month that we serve.”
The Pantry offers its services to those in Commerce who are “food-insecure”, defined by the USDA as “reduced quality, variety, or desirability of diet” or “disrupted eating patterns and reduced food intake”. The latter is more severe, and an estimated 12.7 percent of U.S. households were food-insecure in 2015.
“We are also a choice pantry which means we have a selection of items,” Davis added. “They [the families] can choose from those items what they would like to have instead being given a bag of groceries that they didn’t have any choice over what they got. That cuts down on waste and is more satisfactory to the people who are coming.”
It has been estimated by Feeding America, a national network of food banks, that nearly half of its clients in college had to choose between paying for their education and paying for their food in the past year. In the University of California System, 42 percent of its students were determined food-insecure.
“We do have some college students who come for food,” Davis acknowledged. “Sometimes they are in the athletic department. They may have a scholarship, but during the Christmas holidays or during the summer when they’re not actually playing their sport, then they come here to supplement the food that they need.”
To be clear, the Commerce Food Pantry is directed by the city through the Food Pantry Board. Even though it resides in the First Presbyterian Church, Davis assured that the pantry is entirely separate from the church.
“The Presbyterian church lets us use the building, the utilities, and the space,” she said. “They help us with printing and all kinds of things, but we are not a part of the Presbyterian Church. We are a separate entity.”
Volunteers are hard to come by sometimes, and while a few members of the Food Pantry Board volunteer often, the challenge is often not the number of volunteers that are available during the month but at what time they can volunteer.
“It’s hard to schedule volunteers so that we have a full compliment of volunteers every week,” Davis sighed. “We need each week at least five people working. We could always use more volunteers, but we can’t use a whole bunch at one time usually although there are occasions when we get large food donations. We could use volunteers to process those donations and help put them away.”
Funding for the Food Pantry chiefly relies on donations from charitable individuals or organizations in the community, and canned food drives are often organized by the pantry itself or by community and university groups.
“In the month of October, there are going be several food drives at the schools and at the university with the sororities and clubs there,” Davis said. “The postal service has a food drive every year, and then people just come and drop off donations at the church from time to time.”
Because of the heavy reliance on food and money donations, the Food Pantry’s financial footing is unstable at times, but that may change in the future as the board has successfully gained the status of a non-profit organization.
“We will be applying to the North Texas Food Bank in October and November,” Davis stated. “Beginning next year, we should be able to get food from the North Texas Food Bank. We haven’t [been connected to it] because we never had our non-profit 501(c)(3) status.”
The pantry board decided recently to emphasize high-protein food items because they thought that their selection was not providing enough protein to families. They have earmarked a grant from Commerce Community Care just for that purpose, and Davis urged donors to bring certain foods.
“If people want to bring food to the pantry, we would really appreciate tuna, spam, chili, beans, and rice,” Davis listed, “because a lot of the vegetables and the other things that we give out are not high-protein items. We try to have it [the selection sheet] be balanced so it has grains and protein and vegetables, but I think we need more protein.”
Looking ahead to the future is murky for the Food Pantry because of its rocky financial situation, but Davis shares that a long-term goal of the board is to establish the pantry in a separate building to better serve its clients.
“We would be able to serve the people better with more space and be able to have refrigerators and freezer to keep perishable food,” she described. “Right now, we’re limited to canned and non-perishable items except once a month we’ve been getting fresh produce from FISH in Greenville, but we have to pick it up and dispense it all in the same day. That limits the amount we can give out and limits the amount of families that can benefit from that.”
The Commerce Food Pantry is open from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. every Thursday, and families (which can be as small as one person) can come once a month to pick up food. It is located at 1216 Monroe St. and can be contacted by calling the church office at 903-886-3783. Picture ID and proof of Commerce residency are required.