Does it surprise you to learn one in five adults – and one in four children – from our corner of South Texas went hungry last year? It’s true, according to the 2018 Impact Report by the San Antonio Food Bank – and the nonprofit should know.
Last year, it received more than 75 million pounds of donations for the needy. About 2.5 million went to in-state disaster relief post-Hurricane Harvey, and to storm-devastated Puerto Rico. The rest stockpiled empty larders here at home, a 16-county area.
In this burgeoning, upwardly mobile city, filling empty bellies can seem like a distant problem found in Third World countries, yet many among us know its pangs, and it’s not just the homeless. The need for sustenance has many faces. Some of you may not recognize those visages, but they’re all around.
“A lot of people don’t realize the breadth of the problem,” said Food Bank President and CEO Eric Cooper. “Seniors, children, veterans, disabled individuals, the homeless … we serve them all. There are a lot of low-wage jobs in this economy, and even someone working may not be able to feed a family.”
As San Antonio expands, the number of elderly escalates exponentially, Cooper said. Many of those seniors require emergency food supplies to augment what they can buy, and a number are too ashamed to apply for aid even though they qualify.
“Many baby boomers (who) retired or retiring now are financially insecure,” he added. “It’s heartbreaking when you think of that person who has worked and saved, but now is relying on a Social Security check that doesn’t even cover rent and utilities and health care. Many people in our Senior Food Box Program report their Social Security is only $600 a month. That won’t sustain life unless there’s somebody filling the gaps.”
The Food Bank dispenses countless necessities — diapers, detergents and more. It’s also the largest distributor of pet food in the region, Cooper said. In 2018, the agency provided nutrition for 70,000 pets – often the main companions of the disabled or elderly, who would share their meager rations rather than lose a beloved animal.
While many recognize the organization for its canned-food drives, almost 50 percent of the victuals handed out are fresh produce, much cultivated on its own farms. Many hotels and restaurants contribute unused food, and last year the Hunters for the Hungry provided 67,000 pounds of fresh venison. It’s truly a communitywide effort.
The group’s motto is “Food for today, food for tomorrow, food for a lifetime.”
“We try to hook people up with job-training agencies,” Cooper said. “And, we just completed our 81st 18-week culinary-training program in our kitchen at Haven for Hope.”
The Food Bank is massive and successful. Fortunately, it’s growing to meet an unfortunate need.
There are also many smaller outfits feeding the hungry, such as the Chow Train, which attorney and author Joan Cheever started 13 years ago. However, it just served the last of a total of more than 100,000 regular Tuesday night meals in Maverick Park.
Cheever, who successfully fought a misguided city plan to ticket folks for distributing food to the homeless and hungry, still plans to cook and deliver meals to other agencies, to use the Chow Train for disaster relief and to keep trying to open people’s eyes to the problem of malnourishment.
“We all hunger for something, and being able to give is a blessing,” Cheever said. “We can’t end hunger, but we can feed one person, or one family, even if it’s just for one night. I encourage everyone to do what they can. If you can’t give a meal, or a blanket, or socks, or a bottle of water, or a snack, at least give a smile. In San Antonio, we take care of each other.”