Twice a week Community Helpers on First Avenue in Knightdale opens it doors and rolls out an outdoor food pantry to help residents in need, but now, President Billy Neal is hoping the community can help them.
As the warmer months approach, Neal and his volunteers are on the hunt for a refrigerated vehicle to keep food cold when they transport it for their weekly food pantry distribution.
Volunteers for the organization collect food from grocery store bakeries and produce departments in their own trucks. One of the larger trucks the organization relies on has a large freezer strapped to the inside and some loose coolers, but those makeshift solutions can’t be permanent, Neal said.
“(We have to use) coolers and we can get by with it but to do it right, we need the right equipment,” he said.
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In addition to that truck, the organization “shops” at several larger organizations, like the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina. The items they pick up go back to the building in Knightdale and that shopping happens every day of the week, not just on Wednesdays and Thursdays when Community Helpers distribute to Knightdale residents.
“We have a refrigerator room with five feezers and two refrigerators where (food) can be stored,” Neal said. “(But the truck) is for going out on the routes and picking up stuff.”
“This time of year we have to rush back to get it to a freezer,” he said.
Although what Neal and his volunteers distribute changes week to week, without a refrigerated truck, it even poses problems during distribution.
Neal said in the summer, he sees more children coming with their parents and generally, families need more food because school-aged students aren’t in school and there is one more meal parents have to provide their children.
So the organization makes sure to have enough food on hand, but the refrigerator room is quickly filled, limiting what the organization can take in and distribute to residents.
Having a refrigerated vehicle would allow for some more storage, when needed, and would allow volunteers who gather food to take more time and make more stops on their routes without worrying about the status of the food.
It hasn’t been the easiest few months for Community Helpers. In October, Neal approached the Knightdale Town Council asking for $2,500 to tide the organization over through the winter months, another high-need time for residents.
The town granted the money and councilor Mike Chalk also gave Neal $500 as a personal donation.