John Weaver never thought he would need to ask for help with taking care of his wife and granddaughter, but health problems forced him to stop working.
On a recent Friday, Weaver, 74, was among 275 people from Hurst, Euless and Bedford who were registered to receive fresh produce, yogurt and other perishable foods from the mobile food pantry at First United Methodist Church in Hurst.
“I grew up on a farm in Indiana. We were eight children, and we worked in groups,” Weaver said. “We had responsibilities, and we had strict discipline. If we didn’t finish our chores, we didn’t eat.”
Mission Central and First United Methodist Church of Hurst operate the mobile food pantry, one of nine in Tarrant County, which gets produce, meat and other items from the Tarrant Area Food Bank.
The mobile food pantry was established in 2011 because many residents — including a large number living in apartment complexes along Texas 10 — have no transportation and can’t easily walk to a grocery store. The area is considered to be a “food desert” because it is difficult for many to get fresh food regularly, said Paula Jernigan, executive director of Mission Central.
“The biggest problem we have is that this area does not have public transportation, and there is no way for a lot of people to get around,” she said.
Barbara Ewen, senior director of food programs at the Tarrant Area Food Bank, said the Hurst area doesn’t have many grocery stores, which creates challenges for those who don’t have transportation. “It makes a big difference whether you are within a mile or 5 miles from a grocery store,” Ewen said.
Lack of access to good, affordable food affects the diet, she said. If people are relying on convenience stores or smaller supermarkets, they are paying more for less-healthy food.
“They load up on carbs, bread and chips, [which] are easy to get whether in a food desert or not,” she said.
The mobile food pantry is open from 9 to 11 a.m. on the second Friday of the month, but clients, many of whom are senior citizens, like to arrive early.
While volunteers unloaded pallets of kale, oranges, grapefruit, chicken and yogurt from a truck in the church parking lot, clients are invited inside the spacious fellowship hall to enjoy coffee and a light breakfast.
The volunteers divide the guests into groups of 20, and announcements are made in English, Spanish and French. Some clients are refugees from Congo, where French is spoken.
As Weaver pushes his grocery cart past kale, squash, eggs, chicken, cranberries and oranges, he chooses foods that he knows his family will eat.
Weaver said he lives on Social Security and must stretch his money to afford his house and car payments.
“I appreciate this. We can’t buy everything, and it helps supplement what we need,” Weaver said.
400 Families a month, approximately, served by Hurst mobile food pantry
Linda Thompson, who lives two blocks from the church, helps care for several grandchildren with special needs.
Thompson gets around with the help of a walker and as she went through the line, she made sure she got plenty of vegetables for her family.
“It’s tough making ends meet on one income,” she said. “I make a lot of soup with the things I get here.”
The Rev. Clint Jones, missions and invitation minister at First Methodist, said the mobile food pantry is one of the most important outreach activities for the church.
Jones said that the church wanted to provide a place for people to wait inside so that they can enjoy coffee and sit in a comfortable chair before they go outside to get their food. The church does not want to “proselytize, he said.
People often hit roadblocks when they reach out for assistance, Jones said, because many agencies are limited to a geographic area because of bylaws and rules.
Jones described a recent situation when a woman came to the food pantry and said that she had just moved to the area from Michigan and did not have a government ID or a job.
“You do not have to prove residency. If you forget a utility bill, or another form of proof, you will still get served,” he said.