Story by Misty Jackson-Miller. Photos by Jan Osborn.
Every Tuesday, a long line of cars wraps around the Pleasant Grove Food Pantry with trunks popped and families hoping to pick up enough food for the week. Despite the heat, volunteers load each car with pre-packed boxes and seasonal produce from the North Texas Food Bank and a neighborhood community garden—enough food for each member of the family, no matter how big the household. In a neighborhood where large families are common, the economic downturn due the pandemic has hit this community hard. “It’s one thing to see the long lines on the news,” says Martha Doleshal, “It’s another thing to experience it.”
Martha is the president of the Pleasant Grove Food Pantry. She also served as a member of the steering committee which led to the pantry’s formation in 2010. For Martha, coordinating volunteers and managing the logistics of regular food distribution is a calling deeply rooted in her family’s legacy of community service. Her maternal grandmother, she says, is her inspiration. “She was always giving—she made sure that everyone had enough food to eat.”
When Martha’s mother was a young girl, Martha’s grandmother, who everyone knew as “Miss Adelle,” learned of a family in the area who was struggling to make ends meet. That fall, she began surreptitiously working on a sewing project, carefully hiding the scraps of fabric she was piecing together in the folds of her skirt whenever her daughters bounded into the room. She never told anyone she was making rag dolls for the girls in the struggling family. And she never told anyone she was preparing a dinner for the family for Christmas.
At Martha’s mother’s 50th high school reunion, two older ladies approached Martha and her mother and asked, “It was Miss Adelle, wasn’t it?” A little over five decades ago, they told Martha, “they went to church that night and prayed to the baby Jesus to help their parents. They were about to lose their home. But when they got back from church, they found dolls on their pillows and dinner on the table.” The family never knew who had left the Christmas dinner for them, but the mother, shortly before she died, told the girls she thought it was Miss Adelle.
The story of her grandmother’s generosity has profoundly inspired Martha to give to those in need. It was a legacy she carried forward when she became involved in the planning of the Pleasant Grove Food Pantry. “We opened the pantry because another pantry in the area had closed in 2008,” she explains. “And the need was great.” It wasn’t just one family—it was a whole community of families. In fact, in this corner of Pleasant Grove, 40% of families have an annual household income of less than $25,000. Furthermore, 25% of children are at risk for hunger, and 42% of seniors have said they regularly had to choose between paying for food and paying for medical care.
In 2011, the pantry became a “client choice pantry,” a model in which those needing assistance can use points to secure the food they’ll need for the week—a model which reduces food waste and affords individuals the dignity of choosing which items will best meet their family’s nutritional needs. Over the last nine years, Pleasant Grove Food Pantry has built a strong network of partnering organizations to help connect individuals with vital resources. As a Partner Agency with the North Texas Food Bank, they are able to meet the demand for food in the community and nearby area.
Since the pandemic, however, Pleasant Grove Food Pantry has faced new challenges. They have had to quickly shift to a carline distribution model to both mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus and accommodate the 75% surge in demand. The pantry now serves approximately 225 families in the carline each week, with 260 families as their pandemic high. The pantry also provides special packs for the homeless residents who regularly arrive seeking assistance. These packs include MREs and other items that can be heated in a microwave at a convenience store.
Because many of their regular volunteers are seniors with pre-existing health conditions, the pantry needed additional volunteers to help with distribution. They were assisted by Get Shift Done, an organization with a two-fold mission to alleviate joblessness and food insecurity by paying furloughed workers to fill volunteer positions at local food banks. Younger people, many of them in their 20s, also began reaching out to the pantry about volunteering. “I have been amazed,” says Martha. “People have been finding us, saying, I want to help.”
During the last week in August, Pleasant Grove Food Pantry suffered yet another setback when their box truck was stolen. The truck would be recovered a couple of days later, but it was significantly damaged. It was towed back to their host church. “Needless to say, we have been busy dealing with the police reports and insurance claims,” Martha says. “The down side is that the deductible for the damage is $1,000 and that is going to hurt. Still, we are blessed.”
With so many new challenges facing the Pleasant Grove Food Pantry, Martha and her team of volunteers are looking forward to North Texas Giving Day on September 17. Martha says North Texas Giving Day is a “phenomenal opportunity” for their group because it’s organized by Communities Foundation of Texas. “They are collecting all that money on one day, and we can all be a part of that.” The money they raise will help them continue to meet the need for food assistance “and passionately pursue a hunger-free community in Pleasant Grove.” They are already notifying their supporters of their Giving Day campaign through Facebook and email newsletters.
You can make a financial donation to Pleasant Grove Food Pantry any time of the year through their website www.pleasantgrovefoodpantry.org/donate. You can also sign up to volunteer on their website, or register for a shift through voly.org. Where they are having the hardest time right now is with “anything that needs to be done on a computer” because of the time and technical expertise involved. But right now, any help—financial or otherwise—would be greatly appreciated.
For Pleasant Grove Food Pantry, an all-volunteer food pantry serving a community where a donation of $10 can buy 30 meals, Martha simply says, “all is needed.”
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