Capital Area Food Bank plans expansion as hungry population grows

Sep 19, 2014
Austin American Statesman

Last year, the Capital Area Food Bank distributed the equivalent of a Boeing 737’s weight in food. Not the equivalent of the cargo on a first-generation 737 — the plane itself

It wasn’t enough, according to the Food Bank

The organization’s leaders on Friday are kicking off a 10-month campaign to raise $10 million for a new storage facility. The problem isn’t donors’ willingness to give food or even necessarily to get it distributed among the 300-plus organizations across Central Texas that get the food to residents’ tables, Food Bank leaders say. The problem is simply storage space, especially for fresh fruits, vegetables and meats that need to be refrigerated or frozen

“We (live in) one of the best places to be in the world, lucky us,” said Mike Tomsu, chairman of the Food Bank’s board of directors. “Unfortunately, the rate of hunger (here) is growing at double the rate of the population. We just don’t see it … and it’s not who you think it is.”

One in six people in the 21-county region served by Capital Area Food Bank doesn’t have enough food, a figure that is in line with the national average, according to the national Feeding America campaign, the umbrella organization over the Food Bank. One in four Central Texas children doesn’t have enough to eat, according to a recent Food Bank study that Feeding America requires of its member groups

Tomsu, an attorney at the Vinson and Elkins firm, told the American-Statesman that he lives in the wealthy Westlake area and, for years, has seen the same woman at a corner near his house, panhandling. That image stuck in his mind as the kind of person dealing with a lack of food — wrongly, he said. In two-thirds of households served by the Food Bank, at least one person has a job

Civic organizations have been pointing to a related phenomenon. Austin Interfaith leaders say many of the people who frequent member churches’ food pantries have jobs — jobs that used to be solidly working class, but have slid near or into the poverty line because the cost of apartments, houses and tax bills have been rising faster than wages in Austin and many surrounding communities

Members of Wildflower Unitarian Universalist Church have heard about those challenges first-hand through monthly neighborhood walks on which they chat with residents and provide information about social services

In hopes of countering this phenomenon, the Food Bank wants to build a $20 million facility on land it owns near the Department of Veterans Affairs clinic off of Metropolis Drive. The Food Bank has raised half — about $10 million — so far, Tomsu said, mainly with the help of large donors such as H-E-B and Howard and Mary Yancy

The new facility would allow the Food Bank to nearly double the food it can deliver, to 60 million pounds per year. The current facility was designed for an Austin area with fewer than 500,000 people, a population about half of what it is now. The entire inventory turns over every 21 days

Food Bank leaders say the nature of its business has evolved from what many people envision. The emphasis is shifting from easy-to-store canned foods to healthier, fresher produce. Nearly 30 percent of the foods it distributes are fresh foods and produce, such as eggs from Austin’s Vital Farms

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