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Danville Housing Authority Community Service Center starts mobile food pantry

The Housing Authority of Danville’s community service center, located at 121 Toombs Court, has a food pantry. For the mobile food pantry service, items are pulled from the donations and divided into food bags, put into the community service van, and transported to public housing residents who need food transportation. (Photo courtesy of Housing Authority of Danville)

BY OLIVIA MOHR

During the COVID-19 pandemic, need for food and other economic assistance has heightened, particularly for the elderly, the disabled and those without a means of transportation. In response, the Danville Housing Authority Community Service Center started a mobile food pantry Aug. 24 to transport food directly to those in need in public housing, said Gwen Campbell, resident services coordinator for the Housing Authority of Danville.

Campbell said before the pandemic and the mobile food pantry, about six to eight people came to the food pantry each month, but in the month of August, close to 30 people received food assistance, partially due to increased need and partially due to more accessibility as food can now be transported directly to residences.

The housing authority purchased a van to deliver food with funds it received from the coronavirus relief bill, the $2.2 trillion package from the U.S. government to aid businesses, workers, the health care system and other institutions. It also purchased laptops for the residents and is working on expanding Wi-Fi services on each public housing property, said Tim Kitts, executive director of the Housing Authority of Danville. Through the community center, the Housing Authority of Danville also provides a computer lab, basic life skills classes, children’s activities, job search assistance, elderly/disabled services and other resources and services.

“It’s really just trying to fill in the gaps where we see a need,” Kitts said.

The mobile food pantry will run the last week of every month, when people who are on food stamps typically run low on benefits, Campbell said. The mobile food pantry services all of the Housing Authority of Danville’s public housing sites and receives the food from donations primarily from churches and individuals. The donations are mostly non perishable food items.

The food is delivered to residences in tote bags, which are loaded where the food pantry is located at the community service center at 121 Toombs Court, and the van covers different sites at different points of each day the mobile food pantry operates. If residents have a vehicle registered with the Housing Authority, they are asked to go to the community service center’s food pantry, but if they don’t have a vehicle, the food is taken to them.

“People have been very appreciative and very grateful,” Campbell said. “A lot of our residents who live around here, particularly who are able to walk to the center have been volunteering, coming in, helping to stock the food pantry whenever we bring it in, helping to assemble all of our bags and things, so people have been really excited to give back in appreciation for what’s been given to them.”

One resident who has utilized the mobile food pantry is Tina Rhea, who lives in the Linietta Homes in Junction City. She does not have a car of her own. She said she enjoys living in the community and appreciates help from the Housing Authority of Danville and from those who have donated food.

“The Housing Authority — I consider them my Housing Authority family,” she said with a chuckle. “I’ve been here around 15 years.”

Rhea is 64 and qualifies for public housing because she is low-income. She also receives disability benefits due to depression and other mental health issues, she said. Before she moved into public housing, she lived with an abusive boyfriend and knew she knew she had to get out of the situation when he began to get violent, so she put in the application for the space where she now lives. She moved there with her daughter, who has now grown up and moved. She said she also had a son before, who died of a drug overdose. Her dog serves as her companion, and she sometimes mistakenly calls her dog by her son’s name.

She said she loves the natural beauty of the area and appreciates the workers who maintain the Linietta Homes properties’ landscaping. She takes water bottles out to them while they work, and she likes to check in on her neighbors, she said, especially because many of them are elderly or disabled. She said Resident Opportunity and Self-Sufficiency Service Coordinator Katie McCrystal went door-to-door with fliers with information about the mobile food pantry and other services.

“That made a big difference, her coming out personally and talking to us about resources that the Housing Authority of Danville is providing for residents,” Rhea said.

Rhea receives food stamps and is receiving more money than usual due to the pandemic, but she doesn’t know how much she will receive on a monthly basis in the future, so she is using the mobile food pantry and stocking up on non perishable food items for future use.

Campbell said she hopes the mobile food pantry will last, and she said she asks that as many people donate as possible, as the center is always open to donations from organizations. To donate to the food pantry, call (859) 236-6116.

To receive services from the mobile food pantry, register by calling (859) 324-5720 each month services are needed to be added to the delivery list. Questions to answer in order to register include a name and address, how many people are in the household, if they have access to transportation and if anyone in the household has dietary restrictions.