• August 22, 2019

Mobile pantry delivers healthy food access - Odessa American: Local News

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Mobile pantry delivers healthy food access

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    From left, Mary Ocon and her grand mother Maria Colmenera gather food next to Eighty-Seventh Apartments Property Manager Ashleigh Amonett. The West Texas Food Bank took their mobile pantry to the Eighty-Seventh Apartments Thursday.

Posted: Sunday, July 21, 2019 4:30 am

The West Texas Food Bank’s disaster response mobile pantry has become a critical resource for many Odessans.

Dozens of tenants were lined up Thursday in the parking lot at Eighty-Seventh Apartments near Buice Elementary School to participate in a food distribution program growing in popularity.

The WTFB mobile pantry is a trailer equipped with shelving units, refrigerators and freezers that can hold up to 2,500 pounds of food, and it was acquired in May 2018 as a tool to deploy during emergencies following Hurricane Harvey the prior year.

When the trailer is not being used for disaster relief, the mobile pantry serves as a means to distribute food to rural and underserved areas across 19 Texas counties.

Several of those sites are in Odessa and the mobile food pantry program often targets outreach to community centers, locations associated with veterans and those living in low-income housing.

WTFB Director of Marketing and Communications Craig Stoker said the food bank sees an increase in need throughout the summer months when school is not in session. He said low-income households may suddenly have more meals to provide in addition to possible childcare costs and higher utility bills, and as a result, require more assistance securing food.

He said community partnerships are a way to bring their services directly to clients in need.

“For a lot of our tenants, it takes everything they’ve got just to make rent,” Eighty Seventh Apartments Property Manager Ashleigh Amonett said. “(The mobile pantry) just makes a big difference, especially for my seniors who are on such a limited income.”

Two Eighty-Seventh Apartments tenants, Mary Ocon and her grandmother Maria Colmenera, visit the mobile pantry scheduled to come to their complex every month.

“It’s helped her a lot because she’s on a fixed income and she doesn’t get much help from food stamps, so most of her items she has had to buy out of pocket,” Ocon said. “If it wasn’t for this, I don’t know how many people would be able to eat.”

Jasmine Garcia, another tenant, said the program is a lifesaver.

Garcia said she lives in a food desert and does not currently have a reliable means of transportation, but the mobile pantry gives her a way to better provide for her two daughters and supplement her household’s food supply where her benefits fall short.

The American Nutrition Association defines a food desert as an area with limited access to affordable and nutritious food, usually found in impoverished areas.

Garcia said Domino’s Pizza is one option nearby that is walkable and also delivers.

“We are kind of secluded out here; there’s not many options,” she said. “Even to walk to the closest Dollar General on Yukon Road is like an hour walk.”

She said that trek was a “scary walk” due to large vehicles zooming past and a lack of sidewalks throughout the entire route. She said having the food bank come to her brings an enormous amount of convenience.

Stoker said obesity and hunger can go hand in hand. He said fresh food options can easily disappear from the diets of low-income individuals.

“When you have a very limited amount of money to go to the grocery store, a bag of chips can last a few days, whereas for the same price you can get two apples and that’s it. Your choices can start moving toward processed foods,” he said.

Stoker said WTFB is trying to provide both healthy options and items that can stretch household meals longer.

The pantry is client choice and although staff members guide each client with a grocery cart down the aisle of their trailer, the client selects what items go home with them.

“The hope with this is you’re getting things you can eat and things that you know how to cook,” Stoker said.

He said offering client choice gives participants the ability to accommodate dietary restrictions, work around possible dental issues they may have with consuming certain foods and increases accessibility for those who may not own a can opener, have a stove to cook on or a pot to cook in.

Amonett said the program is garnering growing interest at the complex and served about 30 families last month. Within the first hour of the pantry opening its doors on Thursday, they had assisted more than 25 families.

“It’s amazing,” she said. “The food bank has given us so many opportunities to give back to our residents,” she said.

Odessa, TX

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