Topeka woman starts free food table with the help of strangers

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TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNT)– A Topeka woman is helping to make sure people aren’t going hungry during the Coronavirus pandemic. Doing it, with the help of strangers.

“Take what you need. Leave what you can,” Hilda Panuco said.

That’s the motto of the free food tables you may have seen around Topeka. The idea started when Panuco and a friend wanted to give groceries to a family during the Coronavirus pandemic.

They had extra food leftover and wanted to help even more. That’s how Hilda met Christina Negrete met.

“So we asked her if we could set up a table, just so people can come and get the stuff,” Panuco said. “And then if people wanted to donate they could. Then this kind of just got bigger. Now we have five tables.”

Panuco and Negrete shared the project on the Topeka Scanner pages on Facebook. The first table, at Christina’s house in East Topeka. Then within 48 hours, there were a total of five tables popping up in the city.

“It just really reached out to me that I could help more people too,” Negrete said. “And anybody else can help them. Anybody who is really in need.”

Hilda said she wanted to do more for others during this time, not just leaving it to organizations, churches, and schools to help people in need.

“As a community, if we can, we have to do our part,” Panuco said. “And I think this is very important. Also uniting the community as well. There is a huge need. There’s a lot of people who don’t have transportation. And in this [East Topeka] area, there are no grocery stores nearby.”

The food is free with no limit to how many items someone can leave with, taking whatever they need. While encouraging others to leave what they can.

“I’m really thankful for the people who come and drop off the food,” Negrete said. “And I’m glad that people are helping out too. It helps to encourage them to do the same thing.”

Panuco is looking for someone to volunteer to set up a table in the Oakland neighborhood. If interested, you can contact her here.

Table locations:

  • SE 12th St & Chandler St
  • SE 23rd St & SE Davies St
  • SE 31st St & SE Michigan Ave
  • SE 8th Ave & SE Branner St
  • SE 10th Ave & SE Lawrence St

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