United Way of the Coastal Empire hosted a mobile food pantry Thursday at Dorchester Academy in Midway.
According to Jennifer Darsey, director of the United Way’s Liberty County office, approximately 20,000 pounds of food were hauled in — enough to serve about 500 households.
“Any family, any household in need has the opportunity to come up and apply,” Darsey said. “You don’t have to be on any kind of public assistance. There’s no pre-qualifications … essentially, you say you have a need, you come up and you get 20-40 pounds of groceries, depending on how many are in your household.”
Volunteers from around the county came together to unload a semi-trailer full of bread, canned vegetables, fresh produce and other foods. Boxes of food were organized in neat rows inside Dorchester Academy’s large dining space, to be bagged and staged in the distribution area outside.
Darsey explained that major food distributors, such as Concord Foods, donate food resources to Feeding America, which in turn supplies Second Harvest warehouses across the country. These warehouses then distribute the resources by county, based on statistics such as unemployment rate, income per capita and the hunger need based on census data. A large Second Harvest warehouse in Chatham County serves Liberty County.
“We come together and look at the needs in the community, based on demographics and research, and we see where there’s a gap,” Darsey said. “And in our community, food is a huge resource that is needed.”
Unlike the typical small-scale food drive in which community members donate canned goods or random foodstuffs from their homes, this well-organized effort provides nutritional food to low-income, elderly, disabled, unemployed or generally at-risk people in need.
“We want to make sure that if we’re providing an emergency resource, that it’s got nutritional value and it’s got sustaining value,” Darsey said. “There’s a science behind it.”
Darsey said that the United Way hosts at least six mobile food pantries a year at various locations throughout the county.
Midway Mayor Dr. Clemontine Washington was among the volunteers helping bag and distribute food resources.
“(The food drive) means quite a bit to me — it means that we are able to help those who are in need at this time,” Washington said. “We know that food is very costly, so we want to be able to help them in any way that we can — and food is a mighty big way.”
Fort Stewart soldier Sgt. Robert Safrit, of the 92nd Engineer Battalion, also was in attendance. Safrit, a member of Restoration Church in Hinesville, said he volunteers at every available opportunity.
“It’s something good for us, to put in volunteer hours, and I encourage my soldiers and any other soldiers who want to come out,” Safrit said.
Food distribution began at 11 a.m., though people arrived as early as 7 a.m. to sign up for their free groceries. After the semi-truck arrived at 9 a.m., volunteers had only two hours to unload, organize and bag the food resources before distribution commenced.
“It feels really good to be able to give back to the community,” said Gloria Robinson, a Dorchester Academy board member and United Way volunteer. “It’s hard work, but it’s definitely worth it.”