Carryout boxes loaded with hot dogs, baked beans and potato chips provided more than just nourishment for residents of Oaklodge Mobile Home Park on Wednesday afternoon.
The warm meals — distributed for free by Dignity Food Truck out of Vero Beach — offered a few moments of stability and a break from the mental anguish west Pensacola residents are experiencing after getting hit particularly hard by Hurricane Sally on Sept. 16.
"It's a blessing," said Oaklodge resident Rachell Breeze on Wednesday, as she waited outside the truck for a boxed lunch, which came with a drink. "It lets you know there is human compassion out there."
The Dignity Food Truck made the 13-hour trek from Vero Beach to serve Pensacola's most Sally-ravaged areas between Tuesday and Thursday. The truck was launched by a Vero Beach Christian outreach ministry known as The Source, which partnered with Myrtle Grove Baptist Church for the three-day giveback initiative.
The Source Executive Director Anthony Zorbaugh said he didn't think twice about driving up to Pensacola to feed the needy when he first heard about the devastation.
"So this food truck is a culinary training program for the homeless, to put them back to work and give them real-time training, that was the original mission," Zorbaugh explained. "We knew people were in need here, so we kind of shifted and said, 'How do we help our brothers and sisters up here?'"
The Dignity Food Truck has bounced around to different locations for breakfast, lunch and dinner since Tuesday. It will drive back down to Vero Beach Friday morning.
The truck was mostly camping out in Warrington area neighborhoods near Myrtle Grove Baptist Church on Lillian Highway, but also served Bristol Park residents in the late afternoon Wednesday.
On Wednesday morning, the Dignity's crew passed out 325 breakfasts while stationed in the church parking lot. They also distributed about 100 lunches to those at Oaklodge, which included resident Samantha Purchase, who stood patiently with her young daughters to collect four meals for her family around 1 p.m. Wednesday.
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More Sally fallout:
► Homeowners struggle to reach Skanska as new aerial images show at least 20 barges displaced by Hurricane Sally
► Pensacola Bay Bridge repair delayed due to 'unsafe diving' conditions for assessment
► Photos: Pensacola receives heavy flooding from Hurricane Sally
Purchase said Myrtle Grove Baptist Church's executive director approached her this week and asked if the mobile home park she resides in would be a good spot to help.
"I told him yeah, because there are a lot of older people here and a lot of people without transportation that could really use something like this," Purchase said. "So why not? A lot of people, like someone around the corner there, their trailer got crushed by a tree. And someone else's car got totaled."
Zorbaugh said his four-person staff isn't just handing out food and leaving. They are talking to and making a connection with the folks who are hurting the most right now.
"We don't want to be just a standard soup kitchen where you grab your food and roll," he said. "We want to touch people, interact with people."
To bring his point home, Zorbaugh talked about how he supported a small business owner who draws for a living by buying a sketch that the Oaklodge resident drew.
"He was going nuts, he was like, 'What?'" Zorbaugh. "We believe in community, in bringing people together and being there for people."
One of the four people with the Source lending a hand to struggling Pensacolians this week is struggling mightily himself.
Billy Jackson is homeless in Vero Beach. But he's trying to turn his life around by taking advantage of the Source's culinary training program in hopes of landing a job in the food service industry down the road.
Jackson is getting a weekly stipend for as long as he cooks and serves on the Dignity. While taking a quick breather between meal giveaways Wednesday, Jackson said it's rewarding to lift up the people who need it, even as he deals with his own hardships.
"It's easy for me to relate," Jackson said. "It makes me feel good that I can help out people who are going through a tough time."
The Dignity Food Truck's Thursday schedule looks like this:
- Breakfast: Beach Haven Baptist Church, 821 Winton Ave.
- Lunch: Between Westwood Christian Church and Meadowbrook Park, at Flaxman Street and N. 57th Ave.
- Dinner: Tranquil Villas (5221 Flaxman St.) and Myrtle Grove Villas (5398 Lillian Highway)
Jake Newby can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 850-435-8538.
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