Thousands endure heat for free food

Just Food pantry handed out the latest shipment of food Monday at the distribution center, 1200 E. 11th St. Volunteer helpers Ryan Schroeder, left, and Driskell Johnson were unloading potatoes and watermelons to deliver to cars driving up for groceries.

Imagine waiting in 100-degree heat for several hours just to get something to eat.

That was the reality Monday morning as hundreds of Douglas County residents lined up to receive food donations from the Just Food mobile pantry.

Nearly 25,000 people depend on Douglas County food banks, and the monthly mobile pantry is doing its part to feed people in need.

“Harvesters (Community Food Network) out of Kansas City brings in about 14 pallets of perishable food items that we distribute out to local Douglas County consumers,” said Just Food interim coordinator Carolyn Ward.

Just Food, operated by the East Central Kansas Economic Opportunity Corp., or ECKAN, has conducted the mobile pantry for the past six months.

“The first month or two were a little rocky trying to figure out the logistics of food distribution,” Ward said. “Last month we served 226 households in about two hours.”

Dozens of cars stretched around the block in both directions from the warehouse at 1200 E. 11th St. Many people began lining up at 7 a.m., then waited for several hours in brutal heat for the food to be unloaded and sorted. Volunteers said it’s a harsh reminder of how many people struggle with food security and the lengths they’re willing to go to feed their families.

“It gives you a visual sense of what the hunger problem is,” said Damien St. Julien, warehouse manager for Just Food. “Many people are willing to sit in line for the time being in the heat because of the desperation for food.”

The pantry serves hundreds of households every month with the help of community volunteers. Youths from First Southern Baptist Church in Lawrence spent what little summer vacation they have left to lend a helping hand. Many young volunteers were shocked to see the large number of people affected by hunger, but they said the satisfaction of helping out would bring them back next month.

“It makes me really sad,” said church volunteer Olivia Johnson, “but it’s totally worth it because the people that come are really grateful, and it’s really rewarding for them to be thanking us so much.”

The mobile food pantry takes place on the second Monday of every month. Only Douglas County residents qualify to receive a donation.

The pantry accepts food and cash donations. To donate money, visit For more information, contact Just Food at 856-7030.