New system helps many needing food in Pratt

Gale Rose
Cindy Ibarra and volunteers helped load commodity food into vehicles at the Pratt Community Center distribution point last week Thursday in Pratt.

A line of vehicles snaked their way through the parking lot at the Pratt Community Center as new guidelines went into effect for distributing Retired and Senior Volunteer Program commodities.

Tiffany Ailstock, RSVP director, said the new system worked well although more families showed up than expected and a few families did not receive supplies.

Ailstock said there were 224 families at the event and that is an increase of about forty families over the 166 families that were signed up in February. The 2020 numbers are an increase over the 149 families that were signed up in November 2019. Those 224 families account for about 440 people.

Ailstock said she reported the increase from the previous distribution but anticipated more so she had 200 boxes prepared. Normally, they have boxes left over but Ailstock said she imagined since kids are home and parents are having to feed them and more people aren't working accounted for the extra families.

The new guidelines required people to stay in their cars. Distribution was scheduled to run from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on March 26. A line formed on the street on the south side of the Community Center then snaked its way through the parking lot to the back of the building to the loading dock where high school volunteers loaded pre-boxed commodities.

Staff Sgt. Andrew Hughes of the Pratt Army National Guard Unit, volunteered for traffic control and kept the mood light as he smiled and sometimes danced as he kept the traffic moving.

Each driver presented a card with the number of people in their family then the volunteers selected a box with a matching number and put it in the vehicle.

Volunteers were organized with help from Cindy Ibarra. When Ibarra was a senior at Pratt High School, she volunteered to help at the center as part of her community service class. When Ailstock needed some help to distribute commodities, she called on Ibarra.

When the commodities truck arrived on March 25, Ibarra, her nephew Daniel Rodriguez, Yolanda Rodriguez, Wil Ailstock, Ethan Ailstock, Elijah Gatlin, Greg Kessler, Andrew Hughes of the Pratt Army National Guard, Josh Mack and Cody Bevan from the Pratt County Sheriff's Office all pitched in to unload the truck.

Of that group, Cindy Ibarra, Daniel Rodriquez, Elijah Gatlin, Greg Kessler, Carlos Rodriguez and Wil Ailstock, along with Community Service Work Coordinator Nancy Smith were on hand March 26 to help distribute commodities.

"It was very efficient. I couldn't have asked for it to go better," Ailstock said. "Recipients were very patient, very kind. I can't thank everyone from recipients to volunteers. I don't think it could have gone any batter. It was wonderful."

Because of COVID-19, the normal senior volunteers were not allowed to assist with the distribution so they wouldn't be put at risk.

"I know their feelings were hurt. Our normal volunteers enjoy doing it but they had to miss out," Ailstock said.

Commodities are handed out every other month on off months. The next distribution will be in May. Commodities are provided through the Department of Children and Family and the Emergency Food Assistance Program. The variety of food changes with each load and the state determines what food is sent.

"We don't get to pick and choose. We get what we are sent," Ailstock said.

Food in this load included canned black beans, canned pears, canned salmon, roasted pistachios in the shell, fresh apples, oranges and potatoes, split peas, pork loin roast and pork chops (that was a first), raisins, brown rice, sandwich ham and frozen eggs.

The quantity of food is also determined by the state and is based on the number of households the local RSVP serves. The Pratt RSVP was sent food based on the previous distribution numbers. If there is an increase, they struggle to get everyone a food box.

"Normally we have food left over," Ailstock said. "We ran out of food. We were completely out of food before 12:30 p.m. Those people just didn't get any food."