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Healthy food pantries change gears with drive-up distribution

Posted Sept. 14, 2020

blurry image of people sticking food in someone else's car trunk
Volunteers load fresh food and staples into a family's vehicle.

Fort Worth ISD and Blue Zones Project Fort Worth are meeting student and family needs during this challenging pandemic. Two innovative healthy food pantries piloted in FWISD schools last fall are shifting from indoor to drive-up distribution.

Alice Contreras Elementary and Daggett Middle schools offer a safe, no-contact process that continues providing families and students with fresh vegetables, fruit and traditional shelf-stable items. A first of its kind in the Fort Worth ISD, the healthy food pantry program – a collaboration of North Texas Healty Communities and Blue Zones Project – began in November 2019. The goal is for fresh produce to make up at least 50% of the food available through the pantries.

School staff and community volunteers – including basketball players from Texas Wesleyan University – serve as volunteers placing food boxes into vehicle trunks for families visiting the mobile food pantries. Prior to the pandemic and students transitioning to virtual learning, families could visit the two schools at designated times to select garden-fresh produce from refrigerated cases and other food staples.

Alice Contreras Elementary held two fresh food drive-thru distributions in August, first serving 73 families and expanding to 123 families. Two more drive-ups are planned for September. The healthy food pantry at Daggett Middle School will offer drive-up food distribution beginning later this month.

Valerie King, Alice Contreras Elementary counselor, manages the school pantry and says it is part of a program that will include nutrition classes and other activities to promote well-being.

“This helps our families learn about nutrition and how to live healthier,” King said. “It’s hard for some of our families to afford fresh fruits and vegetables, and the pantry items supplement their dietary needs. This is especially important during the pandemic.”

A weakened immune system may increase severe illness risks from COVID-19, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Studies show that fruits and vegetables provide nutrient s— like beta-carotene, vitamin C and vitamin E — that boost immune function. Incorporating a plant slant into an overall healthy diet can reduce the risk of some chronic diseases, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Choose My Plate.org.

“We know that many families are facing increased struggles,” said Matt Dufrene, vice president of Blue Zones Project Fort Worth. “We want to continue to support our community from a health and wellness perspective while being especially responsive to acute food access needs.”

Orlando Carrillo, a physical education teacher who assists with the Alice Contreras pantry program, said it sends an important message to families.

“The food is a big help to them right now,” Carrillo said. “Our students see that we’re not just here to teach them, but also to help them in the broader perspective of life.”

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