On a hot July Saturday, a little over a year ago, volunteers from the Denton community, agency representatives from the Denton Hunger Coalition (DHC), and Tarrant Area Food Bank (TAFB) came together for two purposes—distribute fresh produce to hungry families in Denton County and make community resources available to them. The event was called “Summer Harvest.”
Serve Denton participated by offering space for the event, and its reception was overwhelmingly positive; the DHC distributed food to 521 families (adding up to 1,951 individuals) that day.
Following the success of this trial run, TAFB and DHC made a commitment to the Denton community—monthly mobile pantries on each second Saturday, and thus the Denton Mobile Pantry (DMP) was created. Including the Summer Harvest, the DHC and TAFB fed 1,969 families (7,673 individuals) in 2015 and have served 2,479 families (8,591 individuals) to date in 2016.
Second Saturday Success
Each month comes with its own set of challenges and rewards, but one constant across the board has been volunteer engagement. The DHC achieved what many groups struggle to do in its very first year operating the DMP—establishing core volunteers from diverse sources, including Catholic Daughters, Denton County Young Professionals, Young Men’s Service League, UNT, the Target Distribution Center, and more. Some volunteers, like Mr. Fritz, show up every second Saturday bright and early to make a difference in the community.
Others are able to commit less frequently, but make large commitments. For example, bringing large groups of volunteers or additional resources like free flu shots. An average of 50-60 volunteers show up each month. In 2015, the time they gave to the community collectively valued $23,370 in volunteer hours. In 2016 to date, that time adds up to $31,560. We cannot understate the importance of DMP volunteers, because they drive its biggest success—community engagement.
Without terrific volunteers, the DMP would simply have been an event that distributes food. While that function of the pantry is essential, it relies on the community built around it for continued success. The Denton Mobile Pantry is more than a resource; it’s a community event bringing families, friends, and volunteers together. It’s part of a growing culture of service and generosity in Denton County.
The DHC is also committed to ensuring the DMP is waste-free. Denton Mobile Pantry coordinators arranged for Shiloh Fields to receive and compost all spoiled produce, and distribution materials like boxes and pallets are reused when possible and otherwise recycled.
When It Works Best
While the first year of the DMP has been an overwhelming success, the DHC is committed to making improvements that will help it grow with the needs of the community. That’s done in a few ways by the coalition: tracking GIS data helps the coalition understand where in Denton County people reached, talking with clients to understand how food is being used at home, and pursuing agency partnerships to increase DHC capacity. Additionally, the coalition identifies factors influencing attendance each month to develop targeted solutions.
The DMP takes place outside, so weather is an important factor in attendance; water is provided in the summer when possible. Accessibility is an issue as well, so a collaborative effort with Primrose Senior Apartments and Heritage Oaks Senior Apartments means that seniors and homebound folks are able to receive food from the DMP each month through the work of Primrose staff and volunteers that pre-register recipients and deliver food directly to residents.
Availability of food for the whole family, including four-legged friends, contributes to the success of the DMP as well; a new partnership with Don’t Forget to Feed Me allows the DHC to distribute dry dog and cat food to DMP recipients.
However, data shows that what may be the most important factor in DMP success is its involvement of the community. Three times in its first year the DMP was hosted in conjunction with a community resource fair, and these three months were among the highest in terms of attendance. People come for the food, yes—but they often have other needs as well, and providing access to community resources makes the DMP an even more effective event.
Steps for the Future
The first year of the DMP has exceeded the expectations of the DHC. There is excitement among members for what is to come and passion for continued growth in the face of Denton County’s increasing needs for access to healthy food.
The DMP is an excellent model for community engagement and provision, and it’s beautiful to see people being served and walking away happy, hopeful, and sure of their next meal. The DHC is just getting started, and Serve Denton is glad to be a part of it.
The Denton Mobile Pantry is operated by the Denton Hunger Coalition and committed community volunteers. Food is provided by the Tarrant Area Food Bank, and space is provided by Serve Denton. If you’d like to get involved with the Denton Mobile Pantry, visit the Denton Hunger Coalition Facebook page, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or sign up to volunteer and receive updates at http://vols.pt./Ohqu3M. To learn more about mobile pantries like Denton’s, visit TAFB at http://tafb.org.