‘Mobile Comunidad’ puts resources on wheels in Jeff Davis County

JEFF DAVIS COUNTY – There’s a new collaborative effort to bring vital resources to every corner of Jeff Davis County, and with an infusion of upstart capital, the “Mobile Comunidad” program is preparing to offer assistance with hunger, literacy, health and technology – all delivered straight to residents’ front doors.

The idea sprang up among three friends and Jeff Davis County residents, Jeanine Bishop, Gwin Grimes and Vicki Gibson, who sought to create a “stacked” solution to a variety of issues that residents in the area face. In Jeff Davis, there are no social services, one grocery store, no daycare, no dedicated Veteran’s Affairs representative and one medical clinic.

In the far flung county that has about one resident per square mile, access to some of those resources can mean a round-trip drive numbering hundreds of miles.

Bishop, president of the Friends of the Jeff Davis County Library, and Gibson, the executive director of the Food Pantry of Jeff Davis County, realized the best way to help people was to meet their needs where they are. A collaboration between the two was born, and with the help of donations and grants, the Mobile Comunidad effort was able to purchase a brand new van that will be equipped to traverse the rough roads, project a free wireless internet connection, bring food to residents and offer checkout of books, computers and iPads.

The year 2020 exacerbated economic hardships in the area, with the pandemic and a crash in oil prices impacting the area simultaneously. “Add to all of that a culture that prides itself on not asking for help,” the group said, and it’s a recipe for going without.

The library, which is a county entity, has joined the effort as a programming partner, but, “There’s no county money in this, we’re not asking for any; the county won’t have any ownership in this van,” Bishop clarified. Instead, it’ll be nonprofit owned and operated.

It’s not the first time these local groups have collaborated. In 2019, the library and food pantry developed the “Kids Pantry,” a successful effort to provide meals to any children that want them, without any paperwork or proof of income level. After seeing that effort gain momentum, the group wanted to expand offerings further, creating a “mobile community,” Bishop said.

With the van, these groups will bring services to isolated residents who need them the most, establishing a regular route that residents can get acquainted with. The library anticipates better summer reading participation when kids can have books dropped to their door, and the food pantry will be able to roll its Valentine food giveaways into the van, as well as an opportunity to add food drops in other communities like the Davis Mountain Resort and Cherry Creek.

The brightly colored van will also have trained staff that can help locals, with things like getting signed up for insurance in the healthcare marketplace or SNAP benefits. Community partners will also bring voter registration efforts, information about the COVID-19 vaccine, digital literacy training, access to social services and more. In the future, they hope telemedicine can even be available.

The van, with additional features like WiFi, a lift gate for food and a towing package for a trailer, costs around $50,000, and gas, insurance and maintenance adds another $10,000 a year. But operating expenses for two years have already been paid for through grants, and donations have been made toward the van purchase. 

Earlier this month, Grimes, Bishop and Gibson visited a dealership in Fort Stockton to seal the deal. Though it’s still uncertain when the van will finally hit the road, Jeff Davis County is miles closer to having vital resources at its fingertips.

To learn more, find the Mobile Comunidad on Facebook at jdc.mobile.comunidad and via phone at 432-756-5522. Tax deductible donations by check can be made to Friends of the Jeff Davis County Library, PO Box 425, Fort Davis, TX 79734 or donated online at mobilecomunidad.org.