LEXINGTON – Put together a semi-trailer, yogurt, rice and several hundred people and what do you get? The Mobile Food Pantry!
Aug. 3 premiered the monthly Mobile Food Pantry in Lexington, identified as a city at risk in Nebraska. A semi parked on the bricks in front of the Middle School. Food was unloaded on pallets in the school cafeteria where volunteers arranged the food on tables.
Much of the food comes from corporate sponsors. Wal-Mart gives a lot of food. Right now it’s summer so there is a lot of produce, more than we’ll have in the winter months.” said Michelle Sause, . Assistant Director of Network Relations, Foodbank for the Heartlands. “There are some personal donations and we contract with a bakery in Omaha to bake our sliced bread. We also coordinate with a wholesale food pantry that buys in bulk at better prices, loads it on trucks and sends it all over the United States.”
“There is no pre-qualifying. Anyone can come who needs food. We don’t even take their names,” said Kristi O’Meara, Lexington Public School Social Worker working with homeless children and the area Mobile Food Pantry coordinator. MFP served 225 families. “They unloaded much more food than was originally assigned to us and we were so thankful everyone received food. I thought we would run out,” said Sause Quantities per person were adjusted to stretch the food so everyone could go home with some.
“I arrived at 3:15 to help set up and there was a line of people from the front of the school to the street,” said one volunteer, “and it didn’t start until 4 p.m.” Since this was the first event unloading took a little longer so the doors opened about 4:30 p.m. Five or six participants entered at a time and started around the cafeteria tables arranged in a large horseshoe shape. Each table held 1 or 2 items with signs such as, “Rice, 1” or “Tomatoes, 2” to let people know how many of an item they could take. There was rice, oatmeal, cornflakes, macaroni and cheese, pork and beans, pasta sauce, canned pears, peaches and applesauce. There were cartons of milk and yogurt. “We don’t always have dairy products,” explained Sause. “It’s a hit and miss item, but today we have a LOT of milk,” said with a sweeping gesture towards the two towers of yogurt and cases of milk. Produce included tomatoes, papayas, snap peas, cabbage and bags of potatoes. Don’t forget the sliced bread and 3 tables of marked-down bakery items from a Wal-Mart. Outside the school in 10 giant-sized carboard tubs set on pallets were watermelon, cantaloupe and cucumbers.
Participants chose which items they wanted. Families with 3 or 4 kids came around the circle and each kid was holding a bag or box. Some kids were holding onto a box for dear life. “Mom, I can’t hold this!” sputtered one 9-year-old boy whose mother shooed him along. Several came with walkers, bags hung between the handles as they weaved their way through the line. People went home with up to 70 lbs. of food. They were asked to bring bags or boxes to carry their food and many of the boxes the food came in were used to distribute food.
“People will learn,” said Sausa. “We have a family in another Nebraska town who brings their kid’s wagon. They bring strollers and learn what works for them.” The MFP also has 5 collapsible wagons. Teenage volunteers pulled the wagons for people who needed assistance and helped them get their food.
“I expected large families, but I was surprised at how many elderly came,” said another volunteer. “Did you see the lady who walked here with a cane? She couldn’t carry all that food. I called one of my family members to come pick her up (and her food) and take her home.”
About 20 community volunteers set up and helped. “We definitely will need more volunteers,” said O’Meara. “We need more people to work one-on-one with the older people.” Volunteers manned the doors, the registration table, the individual food tables, restocked items and answered a lot of questions. In the future middle school kids from the afterschool program will be helping. The group is looking for more wagons or carts of some kind.
“I met a lady who was short like I was,” said Ywe Wah, Tyson Community Liaison and MFP volunteer. “She was dragging her bag of food along the floor.
Mobile Food Pantries will serve over 25 locations in Nebraska in August.