DALLAS — For employees of the Polk County Resource Center, it was clear early in the COVID-19 pandemic that far too many families were struggling to put food on the table.

The Resource Center, part of the county’s Family & Community Outreach Department, helped with the weekly COVID-19 relief program Farmer to Families food box giveaway last summer.

“Every Thursday, the Marion-Polk Food Bank cold truck would show up with anywhere between 300 and 500 boxes that were packed with fresh produce, meat and all kinds of dairy products,” said Stephanie Gilbert, Early Learning and Family Engagement Supervisor for FCO. “We would start at 2 p.m. and we said we would go until 4 p.m. We were never here past 2:45 p.m. The boxes went so fast.”

She said people would begin lining up at 11 a.m. to receive a box.

“It was very apparent to us that there was a need,” Gilbert said.

Seeing how many people needed the assistance inspired the team at FCO to add another component to the services available at the resource center: A food bank.

“We have always done a little bit of food, kind of informally through some community donations and things like that,” Gilbert said. “With COVID happening, we asked how can we better serve the community?”

The county assisted in purchasing commercial fridges and freezers for area food banks, including the Dallas Food Bank, which it collaborated with to build the satellite branch at the Resource Center, 182 SW Academy St., suite 220, Dallas. The resource center food bank also has its own set of commercial fridges and freezers, in addition to cabinets stocked with canned and boxed food and snacks ready for clients.

“We really want to be a satellite of that site to offer that emergency stuff to folks who can’t make it during the traditional food bank hours,” Gilbert said. “We were hearing from public health that as folks were being quarantined and asked to stay at home, getting to any of those places was a challenge, so we were doing food delivery during the height of the pandemic. Now we have a totally formal partnership with the food bank as their satellite site.”

The food bank is open the same hours as the resource center, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Friday.

“When people come, if they need something to hold them over until one of the other food banks is open, that is what we are here for,” said Brent DeMoe, the Family & Community Outreach director. “And it’s the first time anyone has ever been open until 6 o’clock at night to serve families.”

Gilbert said the resource center food bank can be flexible with clients, asking them how much they can carry, and if they have a way to store food at home. If clients are limited on the amount they can carry or store, they can make multiple visits to the food bank.

“We serve a lot of folk who maybe don’t have refrigeration at home, so the limitations of only being able to go to the food bank once or twice a month just isn’t really practical,” Gilbert said. “We are here so that they can maybe stop by and get stuff for dinner tonight and then come back tomorrow, if that is all the space that they have. We also have MREs, which are totally self-contained. They have their own heating packet and all kinds of things, so those who are truly homeless can still have a meal.”

The food bank has been open since April and averages serving about 70 families per week. Clients can walk in or request deliveries.

Gilbert said those who stop by the food bank can also be connected with other assistance offered through the resource center.

“We make everything stretch as far as we can for families, which right now is pretty invaluable,” Gilbert said.

The food bank tries to serve those with dietary restrictions, including gluten-free options.

“We try really hard to meet some of those needs,” Gilbert said. “We have some really generous community partners that stop by and say hey, what do you need or what have you heard is a need? They really help fill in those gaps.”

The food bank receives deliveries from the Marion-Polk Food Share through the Dallas Food Bank. Resource Center employees pick up the food from the main food bank site.

“It’s a set delivery once a week and we are always replenishing what’s here,” Gilbert said. “We tell people all the time, just because we said we didn’t have it this time doesn’t mean that we won’t have it tomorrow. Always check back with us.”

Resource Center Food Bank

Where: Polk County Resource Center, 182 SW Academy St., Suite 220, Dallas.

When: 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday. Closed noon to 1 p.m. for lunch.

Contact: 503-623-9664.

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