Story by Jani Leuschel, MS, NDTR

Marguerite Marz, Vickery Meadow food pantry coordinator, wears a mask in the pantry.

Steadfast volunteers are keeping the doors of Vickery Meadow Food Pantry (VMFP) open to feed the uptick in the area’s hungry families during the COVID-19 pandemic. On a typical day, the pantry, which is open Wednesday 1 to 4 p.m. and Thursday and Saturday 9 a.m. to 12 p.m., will provide groceries to 25 to 30 families, said Marguerite Marz, the pantry coordinator.

“In a lot of these cases if we weren’t doing that, I’m not sure where they would be getting the food that they need.”

Last week, more than double that number of families came to the pantry looking for groceries, she said. Volunteers counted 192 families or a total of 909 individuals. Usually, the pantry gets immigrants, refugees, and other individuals from the nearby Vickery neighborhood. But volunteers had not laid eyes on many people who came looking for food last week, Marz said.

“We were serving mostly [immigrants] and refugees, but I think it’s more Hispanics and people we have never seen before,” she said.

Volunteer Laura Huehn, who has been at pantry door often since the beginning of the pandemic has noticed the shift. Refugees continue to utilize the pantry, but she has observed growing numbers of Hispanics.

“They come in pickup-fuls and take pictures,” she said. “I think there’s a huge piece of clientele that we were not helping before [the pandemic].”

She also said that she because of language barriers she wasn’t sure that some refugee clients understood the social distancing requirements of COVID-19. “They seem very confused as to why we’re doing things differently.”

Golden beets and carrots from the Temple Enamu-El garden. Credit: Deirdra Cizon

They don’t understand why they are no longer allowed inside the pantry, she said. At the door waiting for them is a pre-filled box or bag of staples to which volunteers add chicken, fish, pork, milk and eggs. Staples included are spaghetti, pasta sauce, a four-pack of canned vegetables, taco seasoning and two boxes of macaroni and cheese.

“The whole transaction takes less than a minute when they come up to the door,” Huehn said.

Volunteers quickly supplement the basics with fresh tomatoes grown nearby at NorthPark Presbyterian church and a variety of greens and root vegetables from the Jill Stone Garden at Temple Emanu-El. Marz said the pantry is also accepting produce from the Gardeners in Community Development, a Dallas area non-profit.

These community gardeners are “taking precautions to ensure quality produce…to eliminate all touches,” Marz said. She said the pantry is not able to accept drop-off donations from the community.

Many Asian clients savor the leafy greens and vegetables from Temple Emanu-El’s garden and enjoy the church’s fresh tomatoes, a food found in almost all cultures.

Deirdra Cizon, a volunteer with VMFP since its inception in 2009, is one of the gardeners at the Temple Emanu-El garden. She said they are currently harvesting golden beets, cabbage, carrots, kale, kohlrabi and turnips.

By the end of the shift on Saturday, April 5, the pantry’s shelves, freezers and refrigerators were nearly bare. “We’re not used to this kind of volume and had not ordered as much [as needed],” Marz said, adding that they typically order 3,500 to 4,000 pounds of food. To prepare for the week of April 6, she said 6,000 pounds were ordered.

“It’s the new normal is that we don’t know what to expect. Our freezers are totally full. We have 200 dozen eggs, which really should last us for the whole week, she said.

Volunteers man the pantry wearing masks and gloves; no more than six are inside the pantry at any one time. They maintain six feet of distance from one another. Those who have traveled or had coronavirus symptoms must stay home for two weeks.

Huehn said, “I can lay in bed at night and go, ‘I’m just a little afraid.’ But then, when I go [to volunteer] and see what we’re doing, then you’re like, ‘Oh, I’m so glad I’m doing it.’

“In a lot of these cases if we weren’t doing that, I’m not sure where they would be getting the food that they need.”

Although North Texas Food Bank is a partner of the pantry, only 25% of pantry donations come from the non-profit, Marz said. An interfaith coalition is responsible for the pantry. It consists of:

  • Catholic Charities
  • Jewish Family Services
  • Jewish Federation of Women
  • Ladies of Charity
  • NorthPark Presbyterian
  • Park Cities Baptist
  • Vincent de Paul
  • Temple Emanu-El

In addition to providing food, VMFP has an attached clothes closet that is closed right now but has plan to re-open when conditions are safer.

Cabbage from the Temple Emanu-El garden. Credit: Deirdra Cizon

Because the mission of the pantry reaches beyond hunger, volunteers often connect clients with medical resources like referrals to nearby medical clinics, some of which take uninsured patients as well as Medicaid, and pharmacies that fill prescriptions for free or at reduced cost.

Clients in need are also connected with other forms of assistance like financial help with utilities and rent and job opportunities.

But as the time of the pandemic lengthens, the basic need for food and where to get it is what worries most residents.

Area residents can get food once a week from Dallas Independent Schools: Tasby Middle School and Conrad High School. The DISD website with information on food pickup schedules for COVID-19 can be found here. Note: Schools only supply food to individuals within their district.

Another resource is the Catholic Charities Mobile Pantries, which has expanded food distribution to four different sites in Vickery midtown.

  • Sunchase Square Apartments at 7317 Holly Hill Dr.
    • First and third Wednesdays each month at 12:15 p.m.
  • Park Lane Terrace Apartments at 6808 Larmanda St., behind the last apartment building
    • Second and fourth Thursdays at 9 a.m.
  • Santa Fe Trails Apartments at 6347 Melody Lane
    • First and third Tuesday at 9 a.m.
  • The Biltmore Apartments at 6251 Melody Lane
    • First and fourth Thursday at 9 a.m.

“If families are resourceful, they’re not going to go hungry,” Marz said.

About the author:

Jani Leuschel is a writer who blogs about nutrition and health. She has an MS from UNT and a nutrition degree from TWU. She enjoys volunteering at food pantries and is keen on community nutrition and public health