Community Engagement Coordinator offers food and listening ear

November 29, 2021

Since July, the Food Bank of Delaware’s Community Engagement Coordinator Penelope Velasco has been a familiar face at our food distribution sites – both the mass distributions statewide as well as the pop-up sites that serve neighborhoods in which residents have been identified as food insecure.

Velasco is part of Delaware’s 2021 Pilot Program for the National Health Corps, an arm of AmeriCorps. For those unfamiliar with AmeriCorps, its web site describes it as a national service program that pairs “individuals to work with community organizations dealing with pressing challenges.”  In Delaware, the National Health Corps pilot, is funded by the federal CARES Act, and in addition to the Food Bank, corps members work in New Castle County agencies, such as Westside Family Health, Community Legal Aid Society, Inc., Christiana Care and Lutheran Community Services.

A graduate of Newark High School and the University of Delaware, Velasco, who minored in public health, explained that after she completes her 1,700 hours of work commitment, she’s hoping to earn a fellowship to begin work toward her master’s degree in public health.

“This is perfect. It’s going great. The Food Bank was my first choice because they look at nutrition as one of the social determinants of public health,” she said.

As part of her job responsibilities, Velasco partners with Warehouse Associate/ Driver Lanier Williams to plan and schedule drive-up mobile pantries in high-need areas. Many of Velasco’s planned food distributions have also offered Covid vaccines in partnership with the Delaware Division of Public Health. In the future, she hopes to offer smoking cessation opportunities as well.

“I’m out there nearly every day, and I ask people if there’s anything else going on. Now, I’m hearing concerns about heating-assistance programs. People open up very quickly,” Velasco said, explaining that part of the intake asks about how many people are in the household and if they are receiving SNAP benefits.

In response to the intake questions, she’s also listened to personal stories she didn’t expect to hear: “There are so many people dealing with loss, and I have talked to people about loss,” she said.  “They talk about loss a lot of the time, about COVID. It’s important for them to have a person-to-person conversation, seeing a face, hearing a real voice. People like talking to other people. They’ve been so isolated, they are open to sharing,” Velasco said.

And Velasco was even more surprised, that many people make donations to the Food Bank. “Even while going through the line, they give back.”

To learn more about the Food Bank of Delaware, our mission, and the neighbors we serve, visit www.fbd.org.

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