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Food for all – How Denton’s food pantries are keeping the community fed and how you can help.

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Right now more than 34 million Americans, including 9 million children, are food insecure, according to the USDA. That number rose during the COVID pandemic and continues to climb as the standard cost of living increases.

Here in Denton, there are a number of nonprofit and volunteer organizations — such as the Denton Community Food Center, First Refuge Ministries, and Denton Hunger Coalition — working hard to help ensure no one in our community goes hungry. Here’s a look at the good work these groups are doing and how you can help them continue their missions.

Denton Community Food Center

Since 1974, the Denton Community Food Center‘s mission has been to provide food from a central community storehouse to families and individuals struggling with hunger insecurity.

Last year, the center distributed about 1.3 million pounds of food, according to Tom Newell, chairman of the board of directors for the Denton Community Food Center. “That’s equivalent to about 1.1 million meals that could be made with that food based upon a Feeding America standard,” he continues. “And then translated dollar-wise using an IRS number it’s about $1.8 million in value to the community.”

Right now the center distributes boxes of food donations on Mondays and Wednesdays from 10:30 am to 12:30 pm at their location at 306 North Loop 288, Suite 400, in Denton. Newell says they see on average about 130 families each day they are open.

Each food donation box includes 90 to 120 pounds of food and features a mix of protein, produce, bread, staple canned goods, and other items. “We use a family of four as our scale, so they’re getting food for a family of four for a week,” he explains. “(Families) can come once a month (and) we’re giving them food for one of the weeks in the month.”

Newells says the center receives food through commercial sources, relationships with grocery stores that provide them with surplus items, and community donations. He says they accept all food products between 8 am and 10 am on Mondays and Wednesdays before distributing food that day.

And they are always looking for volunteers. “We love volunteers that can come on a regular basis once a week (or) once every other week,” Newell adds. He says those interested in volunteering can visit their website to learn about necessary requirements and other information.

First Refuge Ministries’ Food Pantry

First Refuge Ministries runs its food pantry as one of its service programs, says Interim Executive Director Izell Bennett. “We do medical, dental, counseling, and the food pantry, so it’s all under the same umbrella,” he adds.

First Refuge currently operates two brick-and-mortar food pantries. One is in Denton at 1701 Broadway Street, which provides food donations on Mondays from 9 am to 12 pm; Wednesdays from 1 pm to 4 pm; and Thursdays from 6 pm to 8 pm. And the second location is at 713 S. Fifth Street in Sanger and is open Mondays from 1 pm to 4 pm and Thursdays from 9 am to 12 pm.

Bennett says they decided to stagger the hours for the food pantries to help ensure everyone had access to them regardless of their schedule. “So if someone worked third shift and it works better for them to come and get food in the morning, they had an opportunity to get that versus someone who may work first shift and they may need to come a little bit later in the evening,” he explains. “There was still an opportunity for someone to be able to get the food that they need.”

The First Refuge Food Pantry is a choice program, meaning families are able to shop for and choose their own items. “Each family gets a shopping list, which is updated every day based on what is available in the inventory,” Bennett says. “They’re allocated a certain amount of points based on their family size, and then they’re able to spend those points however necessary.”

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Volunteers aid each family as they shop, and also provide personal check-ins to see “what other needs they have beyond the food, whether it’s medical, dental, or counseling, (so) were we able to plug them into the other services,” Bennett adds.

In addition to their brick-and-mortar locations, First Refuge also provides pop-up distributions throughout the year where families are provided with a pre-selected box of food.

Last year, the food pantry at First Refuge Ministries distributed 1.2 million pounds of food through all their locations.

Although First Refuge partners with the North Texas Food Bank for its pantries, they also rely on donations from the community, especially for non-essential and non-food items. “Outside of just food items, donations for hygiene items, household items, such as toilet paper and paper towels, plastic spoons and forks, pet food, baby wipes, and baby formula,” Bennett lists. “All of those things allow us to assist the families that we serve that don’t come through the North Texas Food Bank.”

Community members are welcome to drop off donations at First Refuge Ministries’ office at 1701 Broadway Street in Denton during regular business hours. Additionally, Bennett says there is a drop-off bin for non-perishable donations outside their food distribution center at 626 Wainwright Street in Denton.

And the food pantries are always in need of volunteers. “One of the things that we think is vital to the neighbors that we serve is being able to see their community serving their community, so people who come from all walks of life who are able to come and be a help,” Bennett says.

Right now their biggest need is bilingual volunteers who also speak Spanish. Those interested in volunteering are urged to contact First Refuge Ministries for more information.

Denton Hunger Coalition

The Denton Hunger Coalition is a volunteer-driven organization working to connect those in need with information about food pantries in Denton, and also help out with its own mobile food pantries during the week.

According to volunteer Paul Juarez, the coalition holds a mobile food pantry on the second Saturday of each month from 9 am to 10:30 am at the Denton Community Food Center. And they also have a second mobile food pantry at the First Baptist Church in Sanger. Families are provided with pre-selected boxes of food provided by the Tarrant Area Food Bank and other area food banks.

“We try to address needs in areas where they haven’t been addressed,” Juarez says.

In addition to running its mobile food pantries, the Denton Hunger Coalition also spreads the word about other Denton-area food pantries and food donation opportunities through its Facebook page. For example, Juarez says they were recently asked by Tarrant Area Food Bank to help market a mobile food bank being held at UNT in late December. “The last count was probably between 600 and 700 families that drove through and got food,” he adds.

To help run its networking and mobile food pantries, the Denton Hunger Coalition is looking for more volunteers to help out. “We separate the food and we distribute the food,” Juarez says when explaining the types of things volunteers are needed for at the mobile food pantries. “And then we also take the information for people (and) we also have people that direct traffic as well.”

Juarez says those interested can sign up to volunteer through their Facebook page.

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