The line of people snaked down the sidewalk, past the walls of the school building, past a chain link fence, to the street.
On this muggy evening, at least 200 individuals and families, including many children, stood patiently outside Pinecrest Elementary School in Immokalee. They were waiting for food to be distributed from a mobile pantry set up by the Harry Chapin Food Bank of Southwest Florida. Streets in the surrounding neighborhood were filled with ramshackle trailers.
Beatrice was one of those in line. She works hard, cooking, cleaning and waiting tables at a local restaurant. But she can’t make enough to feed her family. The mobile pantry provides what she can’t. So she was happy to stand in the heat with her two daughters, Valentina, 5; Clorana, 9; and son Isereol, 2.
“It’s good. It’s helping,” she said, while Valentina happily clutched a bag of carrots.
Beatrice is far from alone in needing to supplement the amount of food her wages can put on her family’s table. Nationally, in the wake of the Great Recession, statistics show that one in six Americans struggles with hunger.
In Southwest Florida, the need is still great.
Harry Chapin Food Bank partners with and provides food for more than 150 agencies across Charlotte, Collier, Glades, Hendry and Lee counties. Mobile pantries are also an efficient and effective way to get food to those areas where it is most needed. The mobile pantry program, established in July 2010, is reaching 250-300 households at each site. Households receive $60-plus worth of food.
At Pinecrest Elementary, two food bank trucks set up in the parking lot, loaded with fresh produce, frozen meats, and other food items. They included watermelons, onions, bags of apples, some cereal, bread, rice and beans. Trucks carry an average of 14,000 pounds of food for each distribution.
The food was gone in 90 minutes.
If you would like to help out at a mobile pantry in your area, please contact Tanya Phillips, our volunteer manager at (239) 334-7007 extension 141 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Every Little Bit Helps
Her name was Misty. She looked pale and tired. She sat in the crowded sanctuary of First Community Congregational Church pantry in Lehigh Acres, holding her son, Junior, close. They were all waiting for their number to be called so they could get food from the church food pantry.
Besides Junior 3, who is autistic, she cares for three other children at home. “My husband is the only one working,” she said. “I can’t go work myself.”
The family needs the food “because it’s hard, hard financially,” she said. “It helps us out a great deal when we run low on food again. It eases our stress a little bit knowing there is food in the house. Every little bit helps.”
The Bills Must Be Paid
Frank Gonzalez drove tractor-trailer trucks for 27 years. Now he’s disabled and wears a pacemaker. It was hard for a man used to working 50-hour weeks to suddenly go down to nothing, he said. “For the first couple of months, I had the cleanest house in the world.”
Money is tight. His income has been cut by two-thirds. “I didn’t know this existed,” he said of the food pantry. ”My landlord told me.” His nephew, Jayln, 4, sat beside him, all smiles and licking a lollipop.
Gonzalez also feeds a son and grandson. “The less I buy in food, the more I have money for other things,” like paying bills, he said.
Worried About the Future
Wendy sat in a pew at the church pantry, waiting with her daughter, Andrea, 3. Wendy had a rolling portable shopping basket to carry the food she hoped to collect. She has another child at home. “Only my husband works,” she said. “We pay a lot of rent. We have much bills.” As she worried about their future, Andrea, aware only of the present, smiled and played.