By Michael Gresham
The Texas Catholic
LANCASTER, Texas — As he walked along the aisles of canned goods, fresh produce and other grocery items, Rigoberto Aguilar could barely contain his excitement.
“There is a real sense of community here,” Aguilar said. “It’s such a friendly environment.”
It is a community spirit that Aguilar said permeates throughout the Jan Pruitt Community Pantry, a facility that sprang to life thanks to collaboration between the Society of St. Vincent de Paul of North Texas, Catholic Charities Dallas and the North Texas Food Bank.
“Not only are we providing food, but we’re providing fellowship,” said Aguilar, who serves as the client choice pantry’s manager for Catholic Charities.
Church, civic and community leaders came together May 21 for the grand opening of the 2,880-square-foot facility as well as to honor its namesake, who died in January 2017 and is remembered for her decades-long tenure as the chief executive officer of the North Texas Food Bank.
“Jan Pruitt was a visionary, a trailblazer and thanks to her dedication to the cause, millions of hungry North Texans had food on the table,” said Trisha Cunningham, president and CEO of the North Texas Food Bank. “I am proud of what we have built alongside Catholic Charities and St. Vincent de Paul, and I want to thank our board of directors for believing in this vision and honoring Jan in this meaningful way.”
The pantry is fueled by the partnership of the three nonprofits. The Society of St. Vincent de Paul provided the space, the North Texas Food Bank provided the funds to renovate it and Catholic Charities is managing the operation.
Michael Pazzaglini, executive director of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, said it was an honor for his organization to be a part of this ongoing initiative.
“In addition to housing the Jan Pruitt Community Pantry, this site also will host a variety of programs and future partnerships that will pioneer systemic change meant to enrich the lives of our neighbors here in Lancaster and the surrounding areas,” Pazzaglini said.
Bishop Edward J. Burns, who offered a blessing for the grand opening of the pantry, praised the cooperative effort.
“When I see what’s happening with the collaboration…it’s a joy to see that we bind together knowing that we do have a higher calling to serve those who are in need,” Bishop Burns said. “We recognize how blessed we are, and the Lord now continues to bless us as we seek to serve others. Therein lies the joy and the fullness of life that we have.”
Aguilar said the pantry currently serves 30 families in need with a goal of helping 70.
As a choice pantry, participating clients have the opportunity to shop at the facility twice a month, Aguilar said. Clients shop with a computer tablet and are assisted in each zone of the facility by volunteers, which allows staff to keep up to date with inventory. More importantly, the process promotes a sense of community, Aguilar said.
“For some of our clients, many of whom are seniors, one of the few times they get to come out of their homes is to come here,” he said. “It’s important to us that they get to have that community interaction when they are here.”
Currently, the pantry serves only Lancaster residents in the 75134 and 75146 zip codes.
“But no one is turned away,” Aguilar said. “If someone comes who is not from those zip codes, they will get a box of food. They will not be able to shop, but we will provide them with one of our ready-to-eat boxes.”
The majority of the grocery items are provided by North Texas Food Bank, but local donors provide items as well.
Aguilar encouraged anyone who lives in the Lancaster area who is in need of the pantry’s services to visit to begin the registration process. Registering families need identification and proof of address.
People who are wishing to volunteer are encouraged to do so at ccdallas.org.
The pantry, located at 123 Alexander St. in Lancaster, is open to serve clients Tuesday through Saturday.