On August 7, Central Texas Food Bank announced grants totaling $61,745 to 10 of its partner agencies, the latest round in an innovative program to help food pantries keep up with demand. The program, called ReThink Hunger, has provided more than $500,000 in equipment and funds to 56 of its partner agencies since it launched in 2016
When the food bank moved to a larger facility in 2016, it allowed it to increase its capacity to store and distribute more pantry and fresh food across its 21-county service area. But the food bank relies on its 270 partner agencies, from nonprofits to food pantries, to help distribute food to hungry families. And as the demand to provide more fresh food to the outlying areas has become more complicated, the ReThink Hunger program has given them a way to bolster the capacity of those agencies.
As a result, grantee agencies reach more families. In 2016, Hill Country Community Ministries received an $80,000 grant for its program, Fresh Food for All, a mobile pantry. Tiesa Hollaway, Hill Country’s executive director, says before the grant, she and another staff member were taking the mobile food pantry to four locations across their service area. “We couldn’t keep up with demand,” she said. But the grant allowed them to purchase a cooler and hire an additional staff member to run the mobile pantry. “Nineteen months later, we’re probably serving an additional 200 to 300 families a month in seven locations,” said Hollaway. “Just this past Saturday, we served 99 families in two hours.”
“Creating ReThink Hunger was a response to realizing that we can’t do what we do without our partners having the capacity to serve their communities,” said Elizabeth Pena, Central Texas Food Bank director of development. “If a pantry closes, that’s going to have a huge impact on that community. So we need to make sure our partners are set up for success.”
To determine how grants are made, and to incentivize agencies to offer more services, the program scores agencies on four measures. They’re given points for how nutritious and varied their food offerings are, how often they’re open, how much they teach clients about food stamp benefits, and how much they tell clients about local resources to help them become more financially stable. The higher a partner scores, the more opportunities it has for grants and other benefits.
Right now, Pena says most of the grants have helped provide more refrigerated food storage for partner agencies, but another high-demand item is vehicles. For example, she says, a number of the pantries rely on volunteers to drive their personal cars to pick up at the food bank, “So you’ll see a volunteer in their Toyota Corolla only able to take as much food as they can fit in their backseat,” she said. Purchasing a van or truck for that pantry lets them pick up more food in one trip, which means it can get the food to hungry families faster, when it’s needed.
PHOTO: Officials from Central Texas Food Bank and the Shepherd’s Heart Food Pantry in Taylor, TX, cutting the ribbon on their new walk-in cooler made possible through a capacity-building grant from the Central Texas Food Bank. Photo courtesy Central Texas Food Bank.
NOTE: This article was also published in the Austin American-Statesman in August 12, 2018.