By Dawnetta Smith
Community Relations Coordinator, Tarrant Area Food Bank

Most Saturdays are filled with children’s sports activities, week-delayed cleaning, or, my favorite, sleeping in. However, this Saturday my son and I wake up early because we have a job to do. “Let’s hit it. Mommy has to work and I need your help,” I tell my son as he grunts and groans, popping his head from under the cover. “We’re going to work today?” he asks. “Yes,” I reply, and he immediately charges for the bathroom to brush his teeth and wash his face.

Every fourth Saturday of the month, I take my son with me to serve at the new mobile pantry, sponsored by Tarrant Area Food Bank, at O. D. Wyatt High School in Fort Worth. The pantry serves Ladera Palms Apartment Homes, where a large population of refugees reside, and the surrounding community. In 2014, more than 1,500 refugees were resettled in Tarrant County, and each year that number increases. Refugees from Somalia, Vietnam, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Bhutan, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Myanmar and many other countries have made North Texas home. These individuals and families work hard to adapt to the American culture and often work minimum wage jobs to support themselves and their loved ones. However, as with many minimum wage workers, there is typically more month than money—making food budgeting a challenge.

It Started with a Phone Call

Tarrant Area Food Bank has several mobile food programs across the 13-county region we serve, but when we realized the need among refugee communities, we wanted to expand our services to better serve them. After carefully researching the types of foods the refugee populations would like and identifying the heart of where many of these individuals reside, we began to work rigorously to build a program that would serve them.

After several dead ends, I received a call from a young man, who goes by the name “N.D.,” with Partners for Refugee Empowerment in Fort Worth. He wanted to serve food at a Christmas event he was hosting for the residents at the Ladera Palms apartments. Finally, our “in.” We had one week to pull the event together and the hard work paid off. After a successful event of serving almost 300 families, I received a call from Jay Long with World Relief Fort Worth. He shared that Milestone Church in Keller would like to serve the refugee populations at Ladera Palms through a mobile food pantry. We met with the church staff and confirmed plans to move forward with starting a mobile pantry for the residents at Ladera Palms Apartments.

After the meeting, I called N.D. to let him know that a church had agreed to serve the community on a continual basis. He was excited and stated that Partners for Refugee Empowerment would like to join in. In the process of getting everything arranged, I received a call from Campus Drive Community Church in Fort Worth. They were also interested in starting a food pantry for the residents of Ladera Palms and the surrounding community. It was perfect timing. I shared that plans for a mobile pantry were already underway and that they should join in the effort. They agreed!

A Strong Partnership

I decided that the best way to move forward on the project was to have a meeting with all interested parties in order to form a partnership that would work to serve the community. At the conclusion of the meeting, a strong partnership was formed with Milestone Church taking the lead with volunteers and coordination, Partners for Refugee Empowerment providing translators and volunteers, Campus Drive Community Church providing tables and volunteers, and World Relief Fort Worth providing support and volunteers. The first food distribution at the Ladera Palms Mobile Pantry took place on Jan. 23, 2016.

Each time we go to the mobile pantry, my son gets excited as he sees the TAFB truck. He knows it’s time to put on our serving gloves on so we can work. He’s six so just the thought of a big truck, loads of people and putting on gloves excites him. For me, it’s the fact that we are serving another vulnerable population with fresh produce and perishable items—the most expensive items in the grocery stores—to ensure that they can stretch their dollars further in the month. Knowing that we are helping them provide more for their families is what brings great joy to my heart.

Visit our Volunteer page to learn about volunteer opportunities at TAFB Mobile Pantries.

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