Since she began volunteering with Frisco Family Services in May, Emily Dzurisin said she has been touched by how thankful clients have been when visiting the food pantry. As someone who is in “good shape,” Dzurisin said she decided to start volunteering because it was not the time to “step back” from helping those in need.

She specifically recalled a first-time shopper who visited the food pantry earlier this year. After staff members walked him through how to fill his shopping list without going over the weight limit, Dzurisin said, he pledged to return to the food pantry once he came off of furlough at his job so he could volunteer and “pay it forward.”

“When a crisis hits, it doesn’t discriminate,” Frisco Family Services Director of Strategy Joni Klarin said. “Food, a lot of times, will be the first thing to go if you need to pay other bills.”

With social distancing limiting opportunities to volunteer throughout the community, nonprofit organizations that help those in need have seen their own needs grow.

Since the pandemic began in March, demand for services has nearly doubled for Frisco Family Services’ food pantry and has gone up substantially for Frisco Fastpacs and Lovepacs-Frisco, both of which provide meals for Frisco ISD children in need. But the organizations all rely on help from the broader community to get the job done.

Klarin said she believes the repercussions of the pandemic are going to continue to be felt by Frisco Family Services and the community for the foreseeable future.

“We expect to be dealing with the increase in demand for our services for at least the next 12 months,” she said.

Helping those in need

When FISD schools switched to virtual classes in March, the district provided free to-go meals for the 9,000-plus students who qualified for free or reduced-price lunch. After providing nearly 300,000 meals from March to May, FISD continued after the school year ended and distributed more than 112,000 meals in June.

While FISD provides meals during the week, Frisco Fastpacs makes sure students have meals for the weekend. Lovepacs Frisco, meanwhile, normally gears up only during school holidays, such as Christmas and spring break. This year, however, both groups pitched in to help the district while schools were closed for the pandemic and throughout the summer months.

“Poverty is a really complex issue, but feeding hungry kids is not,” Fastpacs Executive Director Heather D. Canterbury said. “Hungry kids cannot learn. They’re worried about where their next meal is coming from.”

Before the pandemic, Fastpacs volunteer Meaghan Wall said, everything was done through a school counselor. But once families began picking up meals from the district, Fastpacs and Lovepacs started distributing meals alongside FISD.

“It has just enabled us to see the people that we’re serving and remind us that behind every bag that we take to a school is a child,” Wall said.

With the increase in demand, the food pantry has seen a lot of first-time shoppers who seem overwhelmed by the experience, longtime volunteer Roz Weiner said. Having the food pantry set up just like a grocery store makes for a more positive experience.

“They are in a controlling position of what they pick and choose for their family,” she said. “That’s empowering to someone who suddenly has no power.”

FISD Superintendent Mike Waldrip said the district is grateful for the groups’ support.

“Organizations such as Frisco Fastpacs, Lovepacs-Frisco and Frisco Family Services have stepped up in a big way over the last several months,” Waldrip said. “These services help alleviate some of the stress and worry that many families are experiencing at this time.”

While Frisco Family Services has its own criteria for families applying for services, FISD helps students qualify for help from Fastpacs and Lovepacs.

Christine Baughman, a member of the FISD Student Services Support Team, explained that once the district qualifies students, it sends families applications for the programs and shares contact information.

Ashley Young, a counselor at Miller Elementary, said families are “very appreciative” of the food they receive per child from Fastpacs and Lovepacs.

“It’s a lot of food,” Young said. “I had one [family] that got seven boxes over winter break.”

Fundraising for the future

FISD has long held regular food drives to benefit Frisco Family Services’ food pantry. However, because school has not been held in person since mid-March, Klarin said, the food pantry has been “significantly and negatively impacted.”

The food pantry has an online Amazon wish list that allows people to continue to contribute, she said; Fastpacs and Lovepacs have lists as well.

“We had just hundreds of boxes that would show up on our doorstep every week,” Canterbury said.

Fastpacs also received a $15,000 matching donation from the Frisco Station Partnership in June to help pay for the summer meal program, she said.

“We raised a little over the $30,000 that we needed for the summer, and Frisco Station was a huge part of that,” Canterbury said.

Lovepacs-Frisco Community Co-Lead Kristen Ellwood said food shortages have also limited how much groups can buy at grocery stores.

“Now, more than ever, we’re relying on food donations to get the boxes packed,” Ellwood said.

She said the organization is also promoting its adopt-a-box program, which allows groups to fill boxes almost entirely on their own before turning them in to be checked and sealed.

“That’s really a way that we can get the food that we need since we can’t have as many people in the pantry to pack,” Ellwood said.

Fundraising is more important than ever this year, Klarin said, considering the challenges the entire community has faced during the pandemic.

“We’ve been doing it for 26-plus years now, and when we ask, the community comes through to a large extent,” Klarin said.

Ellwood said Lovepacs’ existing relationships with churches and businesses are a big help, as is its partnership with Recycle 2 Support. She explained that Recycle 2 Support contributes financially to Lovepacs based on community donations of unwanted clothing and household items given in support of the organization.

“That is a huge partnership for us to have because everyone needs to get rid of their stuff,” Ellwood said.

All three groups are also looking forward to North Texas Giving Day, which raises awareness and collects online donations for hundreds of nonprofits. This year’s event is set for Sept. 17.

“That’s a way that people can get out and give if anybody’s interested in getting involved but still needing to social distance,” Canterbury said.