Written by Phil Cerroni
By Phil Cerroni
The difficult position of local food pantries is mirrored in the appointments of the Human Services Building on Nursery Road that houses the offices of Irving Cares. The lobby's whitewashed walls and the reserved demeanor of the clients waiting in plastic chairs are only the most visible declaration of the hardships that the 8 percent of Irving's population living below the poverty line faces every day.
Irving Cares, whose mission it is to minister to this cross-section of our community, has been finding it harder and harder to acquire enough food to meet the ever-growing demand in Irving. In June, the charity served 857 clients, which is up by about 100 families from the month before. In July they assisted 955 families, and the numbers keep rising.
But on July 30 hope came from an unexpected quarter. Mercy One, the philanthropic arm of Glenn Beck's empire delivered a semi-trailer filled with food to Irving cares. The weekend before, Mercury One conducted their “Restore Love” food drive. When the drive was finished, Mercury One had acquired enough food to fill twelve 52- foot tractor trailers.
One of these trailers, containing 40,000 pounds of food, was donated to Irving Cares.
Teddie Story, CEO of Irving Cares, said the food came as a complete surprise to them.
“I don't know why they chose Irving. I don't know why they chose the other ones that they chose. They did their own research, and they found us, and we were just really glad,” Story said.
Although Story does not know the exact circumstances surrounding the pantry's selection, she was willing to field a guess.
“I think the reason why we were chosen is because they really identified with our tag line, 'It's not a hand out, it's a hand up,'” Story said. “We will help Irving families when they are struggling financially, but it's not ongoing, it's not long-term. We just help during that crisis but not by enabling them and not doing everything for them. Some of Glenn Beck's prior blog entries have really focused on that principle.”
Even though Mercury One's donation came was extremely helpful, the food will not go particularly far.
“Forty-thousand pounds will last about two weeks,” Story said glumly. “We need 81,000 pounds per month. When you think about how much food it takes, it's a very, very big number.”
Story went on to reiterate that because food is relatively expensive per pound, pantries are aided in their mission almost more by monetary donations than they are by foodstuffs, which they can buy at a much lower price through avenues not available to private individuals.
“Depending on how big your kids are and how much they eat, our food orders [about a week's worth of food] have about 85 pounds of groceries in them, and the average price of groceries in that is about $160, but we have these other ways of purchasing – through the North Texas Food Bank or our retail arrangements – we can get it for about $70.
Despite the donations it receives, Irving Cares still spends a substantial amount of money at the grocery store every week in order to stock its pantry.
“The things that were in that food order were cereal, canned vegetables, apple juice – which we rarely have – pasta, rice and beans. There are all those things we don't have. We spent $6,000 at the grocery store today; it's a huge number. Our budget this year for food expenses that we purchase outside of donations is $200,000. That includes a lot of perishables like milk, margarine and ground beef – things that will never come in on a food drop.
Food banks and pantries will tell you that they are fighting a battle that does not look hopeful. Although they are not losing yet, it is becoming increasingly difficult to keep their shelves stocked with the foods necessary to provide nutritionally balanced meals. They have more beans and corn than they know what to do with, but you cannot properly feed children with just that. Donations like Mercy One's are fortuitous, but alone they are too little, too few and far between to go it alone.