by David Moreno, Fort Worth Report
November 23, 2023
Marianne Wiggins, 70, has been volunteering with Community Link, a Saginaw food bank, for more than 15 years.
For her, volunteering served as an opportunity to not only stay active after retirement but also to help families struggling with food insecurity.
Over the years, she’s seen countless families stop by the pantry in need of extra support. The number of people served has grown but always at a steady pace, said Wiggins.
But, since the summer, Community Link has experienced a drastic increase in the number of families needing food assistance in northwest Tarrant County.
The Saginaw food pantry is struggling to meet the demand.
‘Sense of desperation’
Founded in 2005, Community Link, headquartered in Saginaw, provides food, case management and mental health counseling to over 370 square miles in northwest Tarrant County. The organization partners with more than 20 churches.
The organization’s goal is to tackle food insecurity to help people live healthier lives, said Trey Harper, director of development with Community Link.
How does food insecurity affect your health?
Food insecurity is associated with increased risk for chronic health conditions such as diabetes, obesity, heart disease and mental health disorders.
Food insecurity disproportionately affects communities of color or socioeconomically disadvantaged populations. In 2020, almost 15% of U.S. households were considered food insecure at some point.
In 2020, Community Link began to serve about 65 families daily because of the COVID-19 pandemic. In order to maintain safety, the organization switched to a drive-through model, which allowed families to drive by and pick up food.
During the next two years, the organization began to serve roughly 80 families daily through its food pantry program, which operated three days a week from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. During normal operations, families received over 100 pounds of food to get them through the week.
Since July, the number of families served has jumped to more than 180 families stopping by the food pantry daily. Community Link has had to expand to serving four days a week with only seven volunteers a day. The increase is beyond what the organization saw during the COVID-19 pandemic, said Harper.
With more and more residents stopping by, Community Link has cut the amount of food allotted to 60 pounds per car.
“We’ve been receiving less food, so we’re trying to function with less food and the same amount of volunteers. It’s been a challenge,” said Vanessa Thompson, food program manager with Community Link.
Since the pantry is first come, first served, residents begin to line up in their cars at 7 a.m. for the pickup. The line gets cut off about 10:30 a.m. after the pantry runs out of food. That’s when clients begin to get anxious or aggressive. Staff members worry for their safety, said Thompson.
“I used to be the one to go outside and tell people to go home. Some people have tried to run me over, honk or curse me out,” she said. “I quickly did not feel safe.”
The Saginaw police have had to intervene.
“There’s a sense of desperation that hasn’t been there before,” Harper said. ”An officer told one gentleman in line that he needed to get out of the middle of the road, and he told the officer to write him a ticket because he was not getting out of line.”
Why is the demand increasing?
The increased need for Community Link’s food pantry could be tied to the growing population in northwest Tarrant County, said Harper.
The city of Haslet saw a 31% increase in its population since 2022, the second-largest percentage increase in population in North Texas.
Of all the ZIP codes Community Link serves, the 76106, 76114 and 76164 codes have the highest food insecurity, according to the Conduent Healthy Communities Institute.
That’s where the food pantry is seeing the most residents from, said Thompson. In the three ZIP codes, the median household incomes are between $31,391 and $37,752.
“Northwest Fort Worth is under-resourced and overlooked with a mentality that everything is fine,” said Harper. “Most of the people on our caseload are working at least one job, if not two, to make ends meet. Some of them don’t even qualify for government assistance.”
Here are Tarrant County organizations that offer food assistance:
- Tarrant Area Food Bank – 817-857-7100
- United Center Bethlehem – 817-332-7911
- Vickery Mobile Pantry – 682-385-9107
- WestAid (Tarrant Area Food Bank distribution site) – 817-737-9338
- WIC Nutrition Program – Tarrant County Public Health – 817-321-5400
Click hereto find a food pantry near you.
‘Moving backwards a bit’
As Community Link continues to see more families each week, the organization is working with the Tarrant Area Food Bank and the city of Saginaw to receive more funding.
The organization continues to work with the Saginaw police and fire departments to moderate the traffic caused by the long line of cars, said Thompson.
Community Link will continue to pivot and search for solutions to serve as many families as it can.
“We feel like we are moving backwards a bit. We were actually working to have a client shop program where they would come in and select our food, but because of the number of clients, we cannot manage that right now in our building,” said Harper. “We are looking at some other options like web-based ordering so residents can order their food and get it guaranteed. It would relieve the traffic issue.”
As for Wiggins, she hopes more Saginaw residents sign up to volunteer.
“I hope people that don’t work in the Community Link facility actually volunteer and see the need is there,” she said. “Getting the word out to the community is a really good thing.”
Click hereif you are interested in volunteering with Community Link.
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