Local woman brings free fruits, vegetables to Topeka neighborhoods

Local News

TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNT)– A Topeka woman is helping people get fresh fruits and vegetables on the table through a food drive. But she’s doing things differently, actually delivering the food.

When the coronavirus pandemic hit Shawnee County, Tita Panucho looked for ways she could help feed families in need. What started out as a table of free food turned into a food drive in neighborhoods that may have needed the food the most.

Every Thursday, Tita Panuco and her crew meet in a parking lot around different Topeka neighborhoods, passing out free fruits and vegetables. It’s all a part of the Topeka Community Food Drive. What’s different about this group, they drive to the people who are needing the boxes.

“We kind of just fill in the gaps,” Panuco said. “We go into the neighborhoods for those who do not have transportation, or for those who have disabilities and it’s hard to get to those food drives.”

Panuco started this food drive with a table before knowing how big it would actually get. In April, she and a friend started the Blessing Table. There were five tables around Topeka where people could just take whatever they needed and leaving something if they could. Helping in a time when Panuco also needed help.

“I actually did lose my job,” Panuco said. “While being at home, we figured we could do something. Get out into the community and help others.”

Her tables were getting recognized around town. In fact, the Topeka Rescue Mission got word on what she was doing, recruiting her for a bigger task to distribute food boxes around town.

“I think the strength in working with groups like Tita’s group is that she knows her neighbors,” Marissa Dake with the Topeka Rescue Mission said. “She knows these neighborhoods and has established a leadership position and role and a trust from the community. By sending the food with her she’s able to reach people that maybe we wouldn’t traditionally be able to reach.”

Every Thursday Panuco and her crew are making sure fewer people go hungry in Topeka as we get through this pandemic together.

“I know there are tons of churches, organizations out there doing the same thing,” Panuco said. “But if we help fill in those gaps, you know, somebody has to step up and help all the others.”

The group has passed out more than food, they’ve even offered milk. So far, they’ve passed out more than 16-hundred boxes of food and 30 gallons of milk all free to anyone in the community.

The Topeka Community Food Drive is able to deliver around town thanks to the Topeka Rescue Mission who partnered with national groups. The partnership is called Farmers to Families Food Box program. It’s a USDA program that gets food from places that were shut down, like cruise ships, making sure farmers still have a way to make a living.

“USDA was looking for a way to keep farmers in business and keep the food supply chain maintained,” Dake said. “Instead of letting all that food and extra milk product go to waste, they purchased that product and boxed it up. They contract with wholesale food distributors leaders to box it up and then send it out into communities.”

The Topeka Community Food Drive changes locations every Thursday to make sure everyone has a chance to get food. What’s even better, anyone can grab a box from them with no restrictions.

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