‘Our ultimate goal is more than food — it is a community where all residents experience prosperity’
Viewpoints: As people across the country deal with food scarcity and hunger this holiday season, it is on all of us to help our fellow Americans overcome this challenge, writes Eric Cooper, CEO of the San Antonio Food Bank.
Feeding America food banks across the country fight the daily disaster of poverty — and when a natural disaster occurs, we step up to that, too. Our ability to be nimble and efficient while leveraging supply chain logistics uniquely positions us to respond. However, we don’t do it alone. The food industry, nonprofits, volunteers, donors, and government are critical ingredients in the recipe that puts food on the table for struggling families.
At the onset of COVID-19, many independent, hardworking individuals were pushed over the edge and found themselves dependent on the San Antonio Food Bank to nourish their families. We went from feeding 60,000 people a week to 120,000 people a week. We have been providing families with groceries and prepared meals through our network of food pantries and pop-up parking lot distributions.
As our demand grew, we needed more distribution locations. Wells Fargo supported us with additional space and funding to help us respond to this unprecedented crisis through its Drive-Up Food Bank program. Leveraging its Wiseman Campus in San Antonio, Wells Fargo transformed the parking lot into a distribution hub that brought the gift of food to tens of thousands of families over two months.
I met a husband and wife getting food at one of our pop-up parking lot distributions. They had both worked for a hotel — where they met, started dating, and got married. After they were both let go from the company, they worried about how they would pay their mortgage and car payment. Without access to health care, they were afraid that they might catch the virus and worried they would not be able to feed their three children. I assured them their family would not go hungry as I loaded the groceries in the back of their minivan.
Ultimately, we want to get families out of parking lots and into grocery stores. We want them to be self-sufficient and self-reliant. We believe this can be achieved through access to meaningful employment and a living wage. Hunger is a symptom of poverty. Jobs should pull people out of poverty and not keep them in it.
We should want for others the necessities we need for ourselves. We work every day to help build a community free from the inequities, one that has seen segregation of resources and opportunity. Our ultimate goal is more than food — it is a community where all residents experience prosperity.
“The reality is that we can’t solve hunger with a canned good. We have to build a community of compassion.” — Eric Cooper
The reality is that we can’t solve hunger with a canned good. We have to build a community of compassion. We need to understand the struggle and have the conscience to do something about it. Partnerships have to be forged, and strengthening the federal safety net is critical. Expanding the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP (formerly the Food Stamp Program), by 15% along with providing Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer, or P-EBT, for school children missing meals can shorten food bank lines.
COVID-19 has taken away jobs, savings, lives, and the holidays. A father in our line shared he was stressed about providing gifts under the Christmas tree, but he was most worried about putting food on the dinner table. Food has the power to bring people together. It is culture and tradition. Food is medicine. It nourishes both the body and the spirit. It has the power to comfort and heal. Our communities need a lot of healing from so many issues. I encourage you to share a meal.
The holiday season is a time for caring and sharing, teaching us it is better to give than receive. As we have all struggled this year, let us remember to support one another any way we can. Support your local food bank by giving food, funds, your time, and your voice. You can find your local food bank by visiting https://www.feedingamerica.org/find-your-local-foodbank.
I know you and those you help will be blessed. Happy holidays!