West Aid ensures that all west Fort Worth residents have enough to eat — and they need your help.
In the past several years, Fort Worth has become a “foodie” town. Whether it’s inventive new restaurants or epicurean grocers, Cowtown has embraced gastronomical adventurism. For every incredible meal served downtown or along Magnolia Avenue, however, there’s a meal that gets missed for someone in our community.
Much less publicized than the restaurant openings, but no less real, is the existence of persistent hunger. Thankfully, the Tarrant Area Food Bank and a network of local pantries exist to ease a burden that becomes even more tragic around the holiday season.
In west Fort Worth, the problem of food insecurity can go unnoticed. For the past 30 years, WestAID, a food pantry located at 7940 Camp Bowie West, has worked tirelessly to provide meals and assistance to our neighbors. This year, the need in west Fort Worth is greater than usual. In January, Tarrant County performed its annual census of the homeless population. In west Fort Worth, the 2016 itinerant population had doubled from the previous year.
“We see the homeless every day,” says William Pherigo, executive director of WestAID. “These are folks who live in camps who have been displaced due to development, and since there’s a little more open space in west Fort Worth, this is where they hang out.”
Among its many offerings, WestAID caters to the homeless with a free sack lunch program. If your imagination restricts food assistance to the homeless, however, think again: as William explains, hunger can strike anywhere.
“Do we have starving people in west Fort Worth? No, but we have people who don’t have sufficient food,” says William. “Elderly folks on a fixed income, or a household that works, but for whatever reason – illness, or a sick child – has a smaller paycheck one month; for some, food assistance is all they’ve ever known. We recognize that, and consider it our charge to help people in need.”
WestAID, the only five-day-a-week food pantry in west Fort Worth, currently serves zip codes 76107, 76116, 76126, and portions of 76008 and 76109. About 50 local households utilize the pantry for daily assistance. On a yearly basis, WestAID provides 10,000 families, including 12,000 children, with the security of regular meals. If these numbers fail to communicate the necessity of organizations like WestAID, a few statistics throw the reality of hunger into sharper relief.
Food insecurity, the state in which a person lacks reliable access to sufficient food, afflicts 14.5 percent of the nationwide population. In Texas, this percentage rises to 18.4; in Tarrant County, the number comes in even higher: 18.5 percent of our neighbors go hungry with some regularity. For children, the numbers are shocking: in Tarrant County, more than 100,000 children live below the poverty threshold, and thus qualify for food assistance. The effects of hunger are wide reaching, and can lead to poor academic performance and behavioral issues. Those who go hungry often have to choose between necessities, as to whether keep food in the pantry, put gas in the car, or visit the doctor.
“There are situations where us giving food to a household frees up money to put gas in the car, or pay the vehicle registration or another bill,” says William.
Families or individuals who need assistance undergo an interview process to determine their level of need. Households then get assigned a category to determine the quantity of food they can receive each month. The food pantry itself is organized like a supermarket, which allows guests to shop according to needs, or utilize the assistance of volunteers. In 2015, WestAID distributed 369,009 pounds of food obtained through the Tarrant Area Food Bank, and 55,000 pounds purchased or donated from elsewhere.
To accomplish its noble mission, WestAID relies heavily upon the goodwill of the community. In order to expand its services, the group has a pressing need for additional volunteers.
“We need volunteers who can be here weekly, monthly, or just every so often. With more volunteers, we could provide after-hours services to those who work during the day, or who can only make it here on Saturday mornings. This would require a whole new group of volunteers. We also have a real need for professionals to add to our board of directors.”
As a volunteer with WestAID, duties could include everything from stocking the shelves to helping guests shop and register. If you’d like to learn more, or figure out the best way to support WestAID with your money or time, visit their website at www.westaid.org.