By Mary Franklin
The questions that I continually get asked are when did the food pantry get started? How long have I been here? And how many people does the Pantry serve?
Once upon time, there was a world where we thought that everybody's needs were being met. At Thanksgiving 1985, Bill Nelson and Terry Tebedo became aware of two people living with AIDS in Mesquite who were without food. They had both lost their jobs due to their chronic illness and soon had no money to buy food. Bill and Terry personally saw to their immediate needs, but also realized that this was an emerging crisis with a number of other AIDS victims as well. Something larger needed to be done. So, with their normal gusto, they put the word out on the street to bring food donations to their store on Cedar Springs, the “Crossroads Market,” and thus the “Food Pantry” was born under a Christmas tree.
The quantity of donations that people brought grew so quickly that the donated items had to be moved onto shelves. By January 1986, the food pantry was moved to the front office of what was then the Dallas Gay Alliance “community center.” This was the birth of the AIDS Resource Center.
Soon, the food pantry was seeing 10 clients per week. Within a short period of time the Food Pantry operations moved to the center of the building where the hotline was stationed. It was not long before there were 100 clients, with an average of 22 coming in to use the pantry weekly. The volunteers who ran the AIDS Hotline handed out the canned and packaged food goods to the clients in between calls. Rules of “once-a-week shopping” were implemented, and a numerical codes rather than names were instituted for client anonymity. They even began tracking clients’ diets.
By April 1987 a “clothing project” was added to the Pantry project. Charles Hudson and Sherry Gentzel became co-directors of the Pantry/Clothing Project, and they were seeing 123 people a week. Space was getting so tight that they soon began looking to move into larger accommodations. It was around this time that they also started getting food from the North Texas Food Bank so they could serve more clients with less expense.
In October 1987 the Pantry/Clothing Project received two refrigerators and one freezer. This was great, because, for the first time, perishable items would be available to the clients.
December 1987 brought good tidings to the Pantry when the Meadows Foundation provided a substantial grant of money that enabled the construction of a new space we now call the Food Pantry. Tim York was hired as the general contractor for the project, and suddenly it was all “lumber, nails, drywall, flooring, and paint.”
We moved into our new home in April 1988.
Some of the dreams of the new space were not only to provide food and clothing, but also we wanted to have space to have meals prepared for a "meals-on-wheels" type program. We also wanted a barcode type scanner for controlling inventory and client data and a large walk-in type refrigerator/ freezer. In February 1989, the great fire* destroyed the DGA community center. The Food Pantry only sustained smoke damage due to the protective fire wall erected during the construction phase. However, we suddenly had the Dallas Legal Hospice and Development Housing located at the Pantry, and we also provided a much-needed meeting space in the back.
In March 1989, Tony Anthony and David Heller were the grateful recipients of a new refrigerator freezer system. The money for this investment was received by the Pantry from Communities Foundation and TGRA. No more little, expendable units! What a joy! At that point the Pantry was seeing between 90 and 115 clients a week. It was also clear that the need was continuing to grow. Tony worked on the beautification project to have a space less "warehouse" looking and more pleasant for clients. David, on the other hand, was insistent on capturing all client data and records on a computer to have better access for information to support further grant requests.
By 1990 the Pantry was seeing 216 clients a week. Client intake was being done at the Pantry by Craig Hess, and David Jones was coordinating the pantry operations. "Retroactive" (the new name for the recycled clothing program) was in two locations. The back room was now used for storage and offices.
By the time I came on the scene in January 1991 the pantry was seeing 269 clients a week. We started donation solicitations and networking with other food pantries, feverishly attempting to meet the ever-growing need. We were expending sometimes as much as $8,000 a month, and that still wasn't enough to cover the rising demand. I also discovered that we were serving family groups, so our consideration had to change with the ever-changing face of AIDS. Our gift project was started that year. We helped 25 families that Christmas.
By 1992 the average week was 366 clients, and donations were increasing at the same rate as clients. My assistant was hired because I could no longer be “everything for everybody.” The average monthly expenditure in 1992 was $11,500. The gift projects served 80 families that year (including about 200 children).
In 1993, our budget remained the same as in 1992, but our clients increased to 500 per week. We also reworked the pantry several times to accommodate the onslaught of ever-increasing numbers. There were now two part-time staff members, and two full timers including myself. It took anywhere from 20 to 40 volunteers a week just to keep the shelves full.
Shopping at the North Texas Food Bank would no longer fit into the van we were using, so Ryder gave us the use of an 18-foot truck to help haul the (on average) 12,000 to 14,000 pounds of groceries received per week. The Gift Project served 120 families that year, with 300 children. Another project that was started was the “canned food drive” at Tom Thumb No. 10 -- once a month. This allowed me to redirect some monies to other areas of need.
In 1994 we were spending $15,000 per month, serving 560 clients per week, and we hired an additional staff member to run the supermarket drives. By June of that year, we were seeing 600 clients per week. Without the food drives, we could not have stayed on budget (the average value of the food drives was over $2,000 a week).
* For more information on the fire of 1989, see: http://www.thedallasway.org/stories/written/2017/11/27/fire-at-the-aids-resource-center-1989