Travis' Food Pantry at Plano ISD's IB World School at Huffman Elementary opened the same week that precautions began rolling out against the coronavirus pandemic in Texas mid-March.

The pantry now serves roughly 100 families each week, according to the district.

Plans for the pantry began 8-10 months ago, according to Jessie Prince, executive pastor of Grace Church in Plano. Prince and retired Dallas Cowboys football player Travis Frederick had discussed a previously opened pantry at a charter school elementary through Frederick’s Blocking Out Hunger Foundation.

The two then began preparations for a pantry funded by Frederick's foundation and sponsored by Grace Church at Huffman Elementary. The school had previously been providing snacks and food informally to families through donations by Grace Church and Parkway Hills Church, Huffman Elementary Principal Jamey Allen said.

"The pantry gave us an opportunity to provide more consistent assistance to our families," Allen said in an email.

Travis' Pantry was expected to open with a big, communitywide event with Frederick on March 16. That was the same day that Plano ISD schools were originally meant to come back from spring break but were instead given a weeklong extension. Schools then moved to online learning for the rest of the year.

Although not officially launched, the pantry opened March 16 and began biweekly distributions March 17. The timing of the school closure allowed for an opportunity to reach out to PISD families, as Huffman was already serving lunch and breakfast as a drive-thru location for the district, Allen said.

“We had to go without a big launch, but it turned out that that was the exact week that it needed to be open,” Prince said.

The Huffman food pantry and other Travis' Pantries are supplied by Sharing Life under normal circumstances, Prince said. Because of additional demand during the pandemic, Huffman reached out to Grace and Parkway Hills as well as to the Huffman PTA to help fill the supply deficit, Allen said. The response was overwhelming, filling the pantry and half of the gym, she said.

Other churches and groups, like St. Andrew UMC have also provided donations to the pantry, according to the district.

Grace Church has been donating food and other supplies weekly, according to Prince. These donations are in addition to the church’s continued financial support of the pantry, he said.

Each week, church members and outside community members are encouraged to bring needed food items to Grace Church. As of April 30, the church has collected more than 8,600 pounds of food, he said, as well as items like diapers and wipes. Any additional items that the pantry does not need are taken to Minnie’s Food Pantry.

“Every Sunday, what happens is we do a drive-thru prayer time where people can come and drop off groceries and canned goods, etc.,” Prince said. “And that's when they bring it: every Sunday. We have almost more than we can handle.”

Grace Church members stock their donations at the pantry. Huffman Social Emotional Learning staff then organize and distribute the food to families at Huffman and other Plano ISD schools.

The pantry distributes nonperishable foods, fresh produce and meat on Tuesday mornings and Thursday afternoons. Those who are interested in the service can sign up by reaching out to the social worker or parent liaison listed online.

Prince expressed hope that the community will get to celebrate the opening of the pantry at a later date, possibly in conjunction with schools reopening in the fall. The event would be fun for students and would help the church and pantry build a relationship with the community, Prince said.

The church will continue donations as long as there is a need, he said, adding that in times of crisis he is reminded of a story from Mr. Rogers, in which his mother would tell him to always look for the helpers when afraid.

“I think what we've experienced at our church and in our community is we have a whole lot of helpers,” Prince said. “It's also been hard to see the people that are in need because the need is great, but the response has been great, too.”