The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the issue of food insecurity in Fort Worth and across the country as many lost their jobs during the pandemic. When many were preparing for the roll out of vaccines, a small city surrounded by Fort Worth took steps to address food access issues by opening its first pantry early this year.
Blue Mound is a city of almost 3,000 people with 94% working outside the city, according to the U.S. Census 2019 American Community Survey 5-year estimate. The small community’s southern, eastern and northern borders are surrounded by Fort Worth. Saginaw is to the west.
Before being sworn in as mayor in May, Darlene Copeland saw a need to help those who were dealing with food insecurity. She learned about food access issues by being involved with her grandchildren’s schools and volunteering at the Presbyterian Night Shelter, a Fort Worth-based organization.
“If we can help supply anything that is going to help them that day keep them on their feet so they can go out and get a job, or go to work or whatever they need to do,” Copeland said. “I don’t want them worried that they are not going to have something in their house for their family to eat.”
Her volunteer work led Copeland to convince the city to start a food pantry, Blue Mound Community Care Box, to help its residents and those living in Fort Worth and Saginaw.
At least 16% of Tarrant County residents face food insecurity, according to a 2018-2019 community assessment by the United Way of Tarrant County. Many factors can lead to having issues with food access including finances and health concerns.
At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, as food banks and organizations saw an increase in need for food in local communities, the Tarrant Area Food Bank eventually served over 1 million meals per week in 2020 through its multiple programs, including its Mega Mobile Markets.
Helping Blue Mound, surrounding areas
Copeland said Blue Mound is a close-knit community where many people know each other. Out of Blue Mound’s population there were 252 people who live below the poverty line, according to the U.S. Census.
Blue Mound shares a ZIP Code with Saginaw and Fort Worth, 76131. The United Way 2018 ALICE report stated there were 12,313 households living in the ZIP Code and 22% of them were below the ALICE threshold. The report looks at people who live right above the poverty line who may struggle with affording the basic necessities like food and housing each month.
Copeland approached the then mayor and the city secretary to start the pantry and it was created this year. The pantry is located in front of city hall in a small storage unit.
The pantry holds various items like cereal, pancake mix, canned goods, books and diapers. Most of the donations come from 52-52 Ministries, a Willis-based organization located north of Houston that focuses on homelessness. Copeland said when the organization’s founder, Sammie Smimmo, heard about the city’s efforts they reached out to provide help.
Every two weeks, 52-52 Ministries sends donations and the city alerts residents on Facebook.
The city doesn’t ask people to explain why they need help and the demand comes in waves, Copeland said.
“We will have a wave where lots of people come and then we will have a little stagnant period,” Copeland said.
Copeland said the city is always looking for donations and partners to help with the food pantry. When stock becomes low, the city makes notifications on Facebook asking residents to help.
The city was concerned about helping children have enough food during the summer even though local schools provided free lunch, Copeland said. The pantry is stocked with items to help families meet their need.
Giving back to Presbyterian Night Shelter
Presbyterian Night Shelter is the largest service provider for those experiencing homelessness in Tarrant County.
Brenda Rios, vice president of development, said the organization served 3,982 people last year and moved 1,414 out of homelessness and into sustainable housing. It served 437,254 meals.
When the Blue Mound Community Food Pantry receives items that can’t be placed in the pantry, such as drinks which might burst in the heat and items that need to be placed in refrigeration, Copeland takes them to the Presbyterian Night Shelter as a donation.
Rios said the organization is grateful for the donations it receives.
“All unexpired and safe to eat food that is donated to Presbyterian Night Shelter goes a long way in helping us feed our guests,” Rios said.