Shoppers strolled through the short aisles with plastic bags in hand. Some waited in line for meat products. Others cherry-picked bags of potatoes.
These were the scenes at the recently opened Northside Eats food pantry, housed in the basement at Kirkpatrick Middle School, 3201 Refugio Ave., on May 25. The food pantry is a collaboration with Tarrant Area Food Bank and the nonprofit Community Meals.
Parents, faculties and students run Northside Eats. The goal is to provide free food to the surrounding community in an amicable way. Everything from dry goods to fresh produce to meat products is available. Through the summer, the pantry is open 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m Wednesdays, 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. Thursdays and 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. Saturdays.
“We wanted to create an experience where you came and felt like you were in a grocery store,” said Jeffrey Bartolotta, Kirkpatrick Middle School principal.
Bartolotta has seen how food donations often come in boxes with products that people might not like or consume. It can be a waste of food, and Northside Eats wants to avoid that, he said.
Instead, the grocery store-style food pantry allows shoppers to choose whatever fits their needs. The atmosphere helps shoppers feel at ease, so that it doesn’t come across as taking handouts. Bartolotta wants shoppers to feel comfortable and come consistently. And unlike food drives, where people load food boxes in car trunks with little communication, Northside Eats brings people together while shopping.
“We can make relationships with parents. We can make relationships with the community,” he said. “We can hold conversations as they’re shopping.”
This is a great way to know what else the community needs, he said. It’s a place where people can feel comfortable.
Diamond Hill resident Vanessa Silva’s neighbor told her about the pantry, so she decided to check it out. Everything was good, Silva said. But she wished the pantry gave out milk and baby formula, she said.
Northside resident Krystal Hernandez learned about the pantry on Facebook. With increasing gas and food prices, she decided to go to the pantry.
Andrea Smith, a dyslexia intervention teacher at the school, volunteered because she wanted to connect with the community and the families of her students. She already met one of her students’ family during her first volunteer shift.
“I think it’s great. I’m having a ball over here,” Smith said.
The school had plenty of food drives over the years, but they came and went. Multiple factors sparked the Northside Eats project. Bartolotta saw a need when students were asking for snacks even after lunch. Families leaned on the school for help during the COVID-19 pandemic when they lost jobs or family members.
In 2017, the city of Fort Worth identified Northside as an area that has not had any recent grocery store developments.
Tarrant Area Food Bank approved Kirkpatrick Middle School to be one of its distribution sites in January. The school then began setting up the site. Community Meals donated about $15,000 to the pantry to buy refrigerators and freezers.
Everything came together. Northside Eats had its grand opening May 14. So far, it has served over 230 families.
Bartolotta hopes to work with nearby schools to open more food pantries like Northside Eats. Ultimately, for Bartolotta, the food pantry is about helping his community.
“Every one of our schools in the North Side has (to have) one to make (food) more accessible and helping more families,” he said.
Chongyang Zhang is a summer fellow reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at email@example.com or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.