This is the fourth year of #GivingThanksgiving! We partnered with Radical Hospitality to deliver fully-cooked meals to families in need this #Thanksgiving. The event was hosted at Barley & Board and volunteers delivered full meals all over Denton.
Did you know more than 13 million children in the United States are food insecure? And with school out for the summer, those kids no longer have guaranteed meals — breakfast and lunch.
Thankfully, every year SummerFood.org compiles a list of all the free meals served over the summer for kids ages 18 and under! Just go to SummerFood.org and type in your zip code or text "FoodTx" to 877-877.
A few months ago, we contacted a few of our nonprofit partner agencies and community partners to ask if they knew of anyone who was home-bound for the holiday and could use a Thanksgiving meal. They came back with 90 families, which equaled out to 311 individuals!
This fall, Serve Denton is helping start a project called The Little Free Pantry!
What is The Little Free Pantry?
The Little Free Pantry was an idea that started in May of 2016 in Fayetteville, AR, to support those dealing with food insecurity. The goal of this project was to bring the community together to provide easily accessible foods and goods to local individuals in need.
In most food pantries, you may be required to fill out an application or bring a photo ID. They also have set hours of operation restricting individuals looking for food support. The Little Free Pantry provides 24/7 access to food, without having to fill out any information.
With multiple locations, more people have an opportunity to obtain these goods if unable to walk or drive to a local food pantry center. The convenience of this project insures that everyone has access to free food and useful items no matter the circumstance.
Why Set up Little Free Pantries?
According to the Feeding America: Map the Meal Gap, approximately 115,480 individuals living in Denton County suffer with food insecurity. Out of that number, 41,140 of these individuals are children. This large amount of people needing assistance justifies the importance of this project.
How to Get Involved
Argyle Young Men’s Service League will take care of the installation and construction of the pantries. Once they are operational, there will be a need for sponsors to maintain and stock the units. Sponsors may include businesses, churches or nonprofits in Denton County.
Items that can be placed in the pantry may include canned goods, personal care items and paper goods. During cold weather months, pantries may also be stocked with mittens, gloves and scarves. Sponsors should have a group of individuals such as co-workers or members of an organization to continuously supply these pantries.
The Little Free Pantry project will create an environment that not only sparks up conversations but bring community-wide awareness to this issue.
We do not know the exact amount of people in Denton who are food insecure, but we do know those people are out there. Serve Denton hope this project will provide a new source of food for that unknown group of people in need and bring light to this issue while unifying our community.
If you or your organization is interested in sponsoring a Little Free Pantry, contact Serve Denton at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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This is a video highlighting the woman who created the first Little Free Pantry!
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.