A shelf at the Hays County Area Food Bank. Photo by Andy Sevilla.
By ANDY SEVILLA
Community demand from the Hays County Area Food Bank is on the upswing while donations have spiraled downward and experts say relief may not be in sight.
“I suspect with the number of people out of work and the financial times we’re having, there will be a lot of people going hungry,” said Hays County Food Bank Activities Coordinator Kate Shaw. “I hate to say that. I really do. Because it’s sad, but it’s true.”
Hays County Food Bank Executive Director Jerry Gracy said that in 2009 the food bank went through a “dramatic” increase of 20 percent in the number of people needing food, compared to 2008. Gracy said more people were also asking for emergency help “and even more are coming for the first time.”
Said Gracy, “As Hays County has grown, so have the needs of hungry people. We distribute more than half-a-million pounds of food annually to our growing roster of hungry families and individuals.”
Gracy said food and monetary donations from individuals, churches, and schools have remained strong compared to 2008, though contributions from corporations decreased 81 percent and contributions from civic groups fell 42 percent.
“To weather this economic storm, our board and staff continue to keep a close eye on spending, while increasing our efforts to educate the community about the plight of hungry people in Hays County,” Gracy said.
The food bank is housed in a 2,250-square-foot structure, which includes office space and a storage warehouse. Gracy said the organization has little space to process and store food, and if it were not for CenturyLink providing the use of a nearby warehouse, the Food Bank would lack adequate storage.
“One of our greatest challenges is how to receive, move, weigh, inspect, stack, and store food for distribution to clients,” Gracy said. “… Those who have visited us know how little space we have for processing and storing food.”
Gracy said the food bank’s permanent home will be at the Village of San Marcos, though the board of directors is seeking to lease a facility for about five to six years that would appropriately accommodate the growing need. He said, ideally, the facility should be near Interstate-35, have sufficient warehouse and office space, and be affordable.
Shaw said the organization’s focus is to lessen hunger in the community, specifically during the summer months and for the Thanksgiving holiday. Shaw said the summer months are crucial, as children 18 and younger are out of school. During the school year, many low-income students in the Hays CISD and San Marcos CISD eat free and lunches provided by government programs.
Shaw said Texas has the highest food insecurity rate in the nation for children younger than 18, and, in Central Texas, 40 percent of families lack living wages that provide for all basic needs.
“Our major need is food, year round,” Shaw said. “There is a growing need all over the county.”
The Hays County Food Bank is well known for its Turkeys Tackling Hunger initiative that aims to provide families with full Thanksgiving dinners. In 2009 the Food Bank beat expectations and helped 6,537 individuals by providing them with holiday meals. Among the recipients were 1,517 families in San Marcos, Kyle, Buda, Wimberley, Martindale, and the outlaying areas.
The Turkeys Tackling Hunger campaign netted approximately $57,000, far surpassing the 2009 goal of $40,000.
“With the slowdown in the economy, I think that people understand that there are people who need help with food this year,” Gracy said. “Food is a basic necessity, and many families are struggling to put food on the table, especially during the holidays.”
Shaw said the greatest need in Hays County lies in San Marcos, where the average wage is lower than Kyle or Buda. Shaw said staff and resources are lacking to address the local need, though, she said, people are “acutely” aware of the poverty and “are doing their part.”
Among the donors to the 2009 Turkeys Tackling Hunger campaign, Hays CISD came in with the highest donation at $15,869 and 5,973 pounds of food. Following in a distant second was San Marcos CISD with a contribution of $2,260 and 2,797 pounds of food.
“In every challenge there is an opportunity,” Gracy said. “This economic climate has allowed us to bring our mission into sharper focus and realize that our agency exists because of the good will and generosity of this community. We are stewards of our mission to feed hungry people, and we know that this task is crucial to the well-being and quality of life for many people living in Hays County.”
The food bank accepts monetary and food contributions, as well as volunteers to help pick up food, clean the facility, answer the phone, or help with yard work. A $20 contribution buys a family a box turkey meal during the Turkeys Tackling Hunger campaign. A $10 contribution buys 83 pounds of food that will last a week for a family of four.
All donations are tax deductible and can be dropped off at 220 Herndon Street, Monday through Friday between the hours of 8 a.m.-4 p.m. The food bank needs a steady supply of nutritious, non-perishable food, namely canned vegetables and fruit, rice, beans, pasta, cereal, tuna, peanut butter, soups, chili, macaroni and cheese, and canned meats.Email | Print