Ollie Wiley loves to cook. One of her favorite meals to make is stir-fry with carrots, green peppers, onions, cabbage and a little olive oil.
“It’s good. It really is,” said Ollie. “There’s no vegetable I don’t know how to cook.”
Ollie, a vibrant 76-year-old, gets fresh vegetables from Mission Central’s Mobile Pantry. Every second Friday of the month, Tarrant Area Food Bank (TAFB) delivers boxes full of fresh produce, dairy products, bread and other food items to First United Methodist Church in Hurst, where the Mobile Pantry takes place. For people like Ollie who live on a fixed income, the pantry is a way to bridge the financial gap.
Paula Jernigan, executive director of Mission Central, knows all about how financial situations can make or break things for people. “I grew up in a family that lived one paycheck to the next,” said Paula. “I don’t remember being hungry but I do remember times of eating beans and rice.”
Each month, about 350 families rely on food from the Mobile Pantry. Paula shared that those numbers increase as summer gets closer. The number of children accompanying their family members to the Mobile Pantry also tends to increase in the summer. And it’s not just parents who are coming to the pantry with their children–it’s grandparents too.
“We certainly see a lot of grandparents with little children listed on their food applications,” said Paula.
Ollie has been coming to the Mobile Pantry for about a year now. She lives with her 17-year-old adopted daughter, the only child still at home out of her eight children. A caregiver at heart and by profession, Ollie often shares the food she receives from the pantry with friends and neighbors. “There are folks I know that are disabled,” said Ollie. One of her friends she regularly delivers food to is a double amputee. In her professional role as a caregiver, Ollie prepares three meals a day for the man she looks after.
Even with her limited income, Ollie remains hopeful and enjoys connecting with people at the Mobile Pantry. “I get to meet folks from all walks of life and laugh and pray with them.”
“Treated as People”
On Mobile Pantry days, Paula is one of the bright, smiling faces there to greet people as they arrive. She and her team of volunteers work to make the pantry experience a great one for everyone from beginning to end. Ollie always feels welcome when she arrives at the Mobile Pantry.
“The volunteers are amazing,” Ollie beamed. “They say ‘Good morning. How are you doing? Can I carry this for you?'”
When each person arrives, volunteer greeters guide them to one of the many seats in the fellowship hall at the church. On one side of the room, vendors stand at tables full of information on free dental care, healthcare and more. On the other side of the room, families can grab a quick snack or cup of coffee while waiting to receive food. When it’s time, volunteers give each family a shopping cart to walk down the row of Mobile Pantry tables and select their food.
That personal touch, said Rev. Clint Jones of First United Methodist Church, makes all the difference. “What’s so important to me is that people in this setting are treated as people.”
Mission Central staff are very sensitive to the needs of their clients. Paula shared that they serve a large population of refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Because French is the primary language spoken there, Paula’s team made sure to bring on a volunteer French interpreter. They also have a volunteer Spanish interpreter and American Sign Language interpreter.
Jackie Griffin has been a sign language interpreter for Mission Central for three years. After a job layoff in 2010, Jackie turned to a food pantry for help for the first time in her life. Now that life circumstances have changed for the better, volunteering is all about “just giving back.”
More Than Food
Mission Central launched its Mobile Pantry in January 2011. The organization was one of the first TAFB Partner Agencies to take on the program. After First United Methodist Church agreed to host the Mobile Pantry, Paula and her team began developing their plan and gathering volunteers.
“The rest is history,” said Paula smiling.
Mission Central also operates a brick and mortar pantry, the Village Pantry. As an organization, they are focused on empowering people in need to improve their own quality of life. Through their Village Library, children receive free one-on-one tutoring. They also connect people with resources such as adult education classes, legal assistance and a list of local job postings. In addition, their Family Opportunities Program guides families on a path to stable housing and finances.
“I have experienced—in my pretty close family—people who are just barely making it,” said Paula. “They are living so close to the edge. Providing food is something that we can do as a society to help people have the money to pay rent.”
Since January 2017, Mission Central has served more than 1,100 households through their Mobile Pantry. And while the pantry’s main goal is providing people with food, it’s become about much more than that.
“You get to know people on a personal level,” said Paula. “I love that this opportunity gives people in the community a chance to connect one on one.”
How You Can Help
Tarrant Area Food Bank is able to provide access to food for people across North Texas through amazing partners like Mission Central. You can help support our mission by donating, volunteering, starting a food drive or running a virtual food drive. Together, we can achieve our vision of communities where no one has to go hungry.
By Katherine Randall
Website Specialist, Tarrant Area Food Bank