Immokalee | There is a critical need for food pantry services in outlying areas of Immokalee, with many residents living far from the offices of Guadalupe Social Services of Catholic Charities Diocese of Venice Inc., the home of a food pantry and Casa Maria soup kitchen.
In the past, it was only during the holiday seasons of Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas that Catholic Charities staff and volunteers were able to go out and visit these areas and distribute bags of food, explained Peggy Rodriguez, Guadalupe Social Services Program Director.
Recognizing the need for the services in these areas, it was the goal of Guadalupe Social Services to visit these areas on a much more consistent basis, Rodriguez said. This is how the idea for a Pantry on Wheels started.
The Pantry on Wheels consists of a van going to neighborhoods and offering bags of food for individuals and families in need. Started in June, distribution takes place a few times a month with upwards of 50 bags delivered at a time, or about 100 per month. Included in the bags are canned goods, staples of flour, rice and beans, as well as bread and other items. In addition, there is juice, snacks for children, and either fresh cheese or frozen eggs. Each distribution is different based upon what is supplied through the Harry Chapin Food Bank and what can be purchased. It is estimated that each bag costs $20.
The target population is families and individuals who live too far to walk to the Guadalupe Social Services office to receive food pantry services, people who are homebound for any reason, and the elderly.
Currently, the existing food pantry offers a variety of staples for the migrant worker population. Approximately half of the food items for the pantry are supplied from the Harry Chapin Food Bank, along with regular donations from churches, youth groups, and civic and social organizations. Once a month, qualified individuals can receive a bag or two of food depending on the number of family members in their residence.
Unlike the food pantry, the Pantry on Wheels is a direct distribution effort, with no prequalification required. The neighborhoods where the van goes are preselected based on research and community data where the need is greatest. Guadalupe Social Services distributes the food in a new cargo van thanks to a grant from Publix Supermarkets Charities and the Walmart Foundation.
Rodriguez is actively seeking organizations to sponsor a Pantry on Wheels delivery each month. A sponsorship would consist of $2,000, which would cover the cost of one month’s food purchases for 100 bags. The group will also be asked to provide 10-12 volunteers to pack food bags and help distribute to outlying areas in the community.
In early August, the youth from Epiphany Cathedral in Venice participated in the packing and distribution of food. The families in the neighborhood welcomed the youth with a warm smile and lasting gratitude for the food.
“This service enhances the freedom and independence of those who are homebound or without transportation, which is often an issue for our senior clients,” Rodriguez added.
Santiago, who is 71, said that having to depend on other people for rides to go anywhere limits his self-reliance. He was surprised and delighted when a Guadalupe Social Services volunteer knocked on his door. Santiago said he felt pride and liberation in receiving food that was delivered to him at his home.
“In just a few short months, we are reaching out into the community in a way we could only have dreamed of a short time ago,” Rodriguez said. “We have to keep this momentum going. The need is real and out there every day. It is through the Pantry on Wheels program that we can make a real difference.”
To support Guadalupe Social Services and the Pantry on Wheels, you can make a donation through the Catholic Charities Diocese of Venice website at www.catholiccharitiesdov.org, or you can send a check to Guadalupe Social Services of Catholic Charities, 211 S. 9th St., Immokalee, FL 34142. For additional information, call 239-657-6242 or email Peggy Rodriquez at email@example.com.