Delivering Essentials and Lifting Spirits

Drive-thru food pantry works with COVID-19 safety measures

DETROIT — Josephine Barcenas worked two jobs on her way to putting two kids through college. Now 79, Josephine lives in a senior apartment complex in southwest Detroit, where she makes regular stops at the nearby Ford Resource and Engagement Center (FREC) to pick up groceries.

Beside filled grocery cart, person holds bag of oranges in each hand places them into Ford Motor Company vehicle with boxes holding eggs

"This helps me tremendously," said Josephine, who says she's a walking miracle after surviving five heart attacks in one day. "I don't know what we would do without these programs in hard times for everybody."

The Gleaners Client Choice Food Pantry at the FREC has been a reliable source of food for neighborhood residents for seven years, allowing people to walk the aisles and select their groceries. Until now. The system changed with COVID-19 and the new safety rules, such as social distancing, but it has not stopped the delivery of food to people who need it.

"We've turned our client choice pantry into a drive-thru and have distributed more than 600,000 pounds of food in the 20-plus weeks of COVID," said Carmen Mattia, senior director, FREC southwest Detroit. "Even in the midst of a pandemic, we can still provide services to the community."

Those services also include a new fresh market program, featuring fruits, vegetables, eggs, milk and cheese. Hundreds of cars line up each week as volunteers load groceries into trunks and truck beds while drivers wait behind the wheel.

Masked, gloved African American male holds bag of apples and jug near large container with oranges, muffins, Luna snack bars, Kelloggs cereal

Patrick Bean was among those waiting in the growing line outside the FREC. He says he's been stopping by to pick up food for some time now and he appreciates the service.

"It's a blessing. Taken a lot of stress off us," said Patrick, a local retiree. "It provides peace of mind when you're wondering where your next meal is coming from. You can always count on them to have something for us."

Timothy Perry takes the bus to the FREC. He's currently unemployed and brings along a wheeled cart to collect what he needs. "It makes up the difference with what I don't have, fresh vegetables and fruits," said Timothy, "The best nutrition for me."

Creativity and adaptability are essential in coping with a crisis, and the FREC is no exception. The drive-thru model is also being utilized to advance other programs. Educational items, such as backpacks and books, have been included with deliveries of food to families with school-age children. New partners and friends in the community have donated games, puzzles and toys to help parents keep kids busy.

"We're working on a new normal, and already thinking about creative ways to continue the Halloween and Christmas programs," added Mattia. "The parents are overjoyed. They don't have any other resources. They drive up and we can talk with them and give them information on what's going on in the community or afterschool programs. It's really made a huge difference during COVID-19."

View the food distribution and event calendars for FREC Southwest and FREC East.

Ford Resource and Engagement Centers are an innovative approach to community life developed by Ford Fund to bring together nonprofit partners in a common location to support people in the surrounding neighborhoods. In addition to the original FREC in southwest Detroit, there is a second location on Detroit's east side, and three globally in Romania, South Africa and Thailand.

Ford Fund has contributed nearly $3 million to assist nonprofits helping people manage challenges related to the pandemic, including more than $1.1 million delivered by employees and others through the COVID-19 Match Program. To learn more about Ford Fund's response to COVID-19, visit www.fordfund.org/covid19.