Cars Line Up Thursday for ‘Mega' Mobile Food Pantry Fair Park

The North Texas Food Bank hosted a large crowd at its third mobile food pantry distribution at Fair Park

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Feeding America says the number of food-insecure children in our country could reach up to 18 million because of the coronavirus crisis.

In North Texas, massive crowds have turned out for free food from the North Texas Food Bank.

The organization said they've served more than 32,000 households since the onset of this pandemic. Thursday, their crews were back at Fair Park offering more help.

Cars lined up as early as 2 a.m., starting with Elise Bigony from Mesquite.

"I don't know. This is a very scary time. And I don't think it's over right now," she said.

Carmel Zeno was the third car in line. This was her first time successfully getting food for her family at the mobile pantry site at Fair Park.

"This is my third attempt at this location. I didn't make it in time before," she said. "Of course, I'm unemployed. Right now, I have two out of five kids home. One has a diagnosis because of COVID. I'm thankful for whatever I can get, so it's one of those situations."

North Texas Food Bank, others have seen a steep increase in families looking for help during coronavirus pandemic.

Once the mobile pantry started at 9 a.m., hundreds of cars were lined up for blocks.

By 11 a.m., more than 5,000 boxes had been handed out to families. Members of the Texas National Guard worked like a well-oiled machine putting boxes of food, milk and other nutritious food into the trunks of vehicles.

After four hours, more than 7,000 boxes of food were distributed to families, totaling to an estimated 1,485 households.

NTFB leaders said it shows just how much the need has grown in the last two months. The food bank's network of mobile pantries handed out 1.6 million pounds of food just in the month of April.

"Economic security is definitely tied to food security so we're going to see demand like this for years," said Valerie Hawthorne, the Government and Community Relations director for NTFB.

Hard-working volunteers are being looked after, too. Chefs from The Prep Kitchen in Dallas put together healthy wraps to feed the "hunger helpers" as they call them -- the police, volunteers and guards members working throughout the morning.

“It’s definitely a tough time right now," said Chef Kyle Clark. "Everybody is going through a lot of different things and not sure what tomorrow is going to bring.”

It took days of hard work and preparation for food bank staff, volunteers and Texas National Guard members to get to this point. Every day, the guard worked hard packing boxes at the NTFB’s facility in Plano. At the previous mobile pantry at Fair Park last month, around 7,500 were given out to families.

This time, they came prepared with 10,000.

In North Texas, massive crowds have turned out for free food from the North Texas Food Bank. Thursday, their crews will be back at Fair Park ready to offer more help.

“Fair Park remains one of our largest distributions to date,” said Erica Yaeger, chief external affairs officer for the North Texas Food Bank. “It’s really a perfect storm for those that are food insecure."

Since then, unemployment has increased. So has the price of groceries which increased by 2.6% in April, the highest one-month increase in 46 years.

“We're expecting a large crowd so hopefully everybody keeps a smile, stays patient. There's certainly blessings to go around thanks to the NTFB,” said Brian Luallen, executive director of Fair Park First, the nonprofit operating Fair Park.

An increase in food and financial donations has helped the food bank keep up with demand, Yaeger said.

“Surprisingly, 40-50% of those are seeking food assistance for the first time,” she said.

It's something Tarrant County is seeing, too.

“We do have a new clientele. We are seeing a lot of new hungry people who have recently been laid off or furloughed, who have never had to ask for our services before,” said Julie Butner, President and CEO of Tarrant Area Food Bank.

Another organization in Fort Worth, the Community Food Bank has had to expand its offerings to welcome an influx of new clients, as well.

“They’ll say, ‘Well, I’ve never done this before. I feel bad. I don’t want to take it from somebody worse off than me.’ I say, ‘Hunger doesn't discriminate,’” said Regena Taylor, CEO of Community Food Bank.  

Those in need do not have to sign up for any of the mobile pantries but they will be asked to fill out a form that helps the NTFB keep track of distribution.

Click here to view more distribution times and locations in North Texas.

*Map locations are approximate, central locations for the city and are not meant to indicate where actual infected people live.

NBC 5's Ben Russell contributed to this report.

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