Published August 26, 2021 at 5:52pm.
Story and photos by Mary Martin.
The team at Aunt Bette’s Community Pantry knows their neighbors. The pantry is run by the St. Philip’s School and Community Center, and named for Bette Perot, a dedicated volunteer at one of the center’s original food pantries. The current iteration was set up as a client-choice grocery store model before COVID-19 appeared in Dallas, but the transition to outdoor pick-up ensured that every client continued to have access to fresh produce and kitchen staples. Nearly a year and a half has passed since that change, and the need has only grown.
On Monday and Wednesday mornings, regular clients from the 75210 and 75215 zip codes stop by the drive-through or walk-up distribution center. Each family is given an appointment every two weeks, but there are also baskets of emergency food available for clients who need a little more. For people who live outside those zip codes, they are welcome to come and receive emergency baskets of food as often as they need.
Boxes of milk and cereal, along with bags of chard, carrots, and onions, are curated into carts. Then volunteers load the groceries into waiting cars while a staff member checks in with each client. Angelyn Page is the Pantry Coordinator and knows each driver’s name, what car they typically drive, and how often they shop. During the summer the pantry was serving more than 100 regular clients and around 200 emergency needs each week. “We started at eight o’clock and by 7:15 there were cars all the way down the road,” says Dee Velvin, Community Development Coordinator at St. Philip’s Community Center.
Partnerships with North Texas Food Bank, as well as local grocery stores and farms have provided the bulk of the food, working closely with the St. Philip’s staff to ensure that any food that is donated is able to be quickly distributed. Pantry Director Kelvin Browning has been with Aunt Bette’s Community Pantry for two years, bringing five years of experience at North Texas Food Bank. “We’ve gained more than 200 families during COVID, and before that we rarely had any emergency neighbors,” he says, just after handing a carton of ice cream to a child in a pick-up truck. “But as the pandemic kept going, other churches and food distribution locations couldn’t keep up, so we get their clients. We are still seeing first time families, even this summer, but we don’t turn anyone away.”
The Community Pantry is just one small piece of the St. Philip’s impact. As a thriving ministry with a 75-year history, St. Philip’s is interacting with families on a regular basis. Dr. Terry Flowers has led St. Philip’s since 1983, and is now Headmaster and Executive Director. As he listens to those around him who have been affected most by disruptions in school, work, and health, Dr. Flowers is working to find resources that meet root issues. “In this zip code, the concentration of additional services is unique,” he says. “We could almost be considered a one-stop shop right here where we are. We are able to get other nonprofits that have resources to meet the needs of the people.”
Dr. Flowers is also realistic about the long-term effects that the pandemic is creating. “I think people will come out of this experience with PTSD. It is traumatizing. There are layers and subtle ways that people have been traumatized, and on top of that, there is death and fear. It’s an invisible drain, drawing energy and resources.” Conversations about the mental health of the community are intertwined with conversations about food, housing, childcare, and education challenges.
As a trusted resource, Dr. Flowers and his team draw on the long commitment to their neighbors. “For 75 years, from the time we started as a church, our mission has been to serve and respond to the needs of the community.” Those needs have continued to shift, but whether it is a gallon of milk or a safe place for students, the team at St. Philip’s School and Community Center is showing up.
If you are interested in supporting St. Philip’s School and Community Center with a donation or by volunteering, you can visit stphilips1600.org/get-involved.