A Movement to End Food Insecurity
Prior to COVID-19, the Central Texas Food Bank served an average of 50,000 Central Texans across a 21-county region roughly two times the size of Massachusetts. They provide food to Texans in need through mobile pantries and by working with 260 plus partner organizations, including churches, food pantries, and soup kitchens. In normal times, feeding the hungry takes an extraordinary amount of time, resources, and coordination. Since the crisis began, staff and volunteers at the Central Texas Food Bank and at food banks around the country have been in overdrive.
As of this writing, more than 30 million people have filed for unemployment in the United States. The pandemic’s economic impact is unprecedented. Now, many people and families in our communities are struggling to put food on the table. I connected with Beth Corbett, Director of Advocacy and Public Policy at the Central Texas Food Bank, during a rare moment of downtime for her, to find out how the COVID crisis is changing the food bank’s work. Beth has hardly put her phone down these past few weeks, and I’m especially grateful for sharing the food bank’s story with the Movement Maker Tribe.
Beth is responsible for government relations, public policy, and advocacy on a local, state, and federal level for the food bank. In normal times, there are tons of things to keep track of: constantly changing regulations and food policy initiatives, not to mention building and maintaining the food bank’s relationships with country judges and city council members across their extensive service area.
Adapting to Serve
Now those changes are rolling in at an even faster clip. For starters, the food bank had to flip their entire operation on its head with a new drive-through distribution model to maintain social distancing and minimize people’s exposure to the virus. The food bank has also had to radically shift how they handle distributions. To maintain social distancing, they switched to drive-through distributions. Given lines that are hundreds of cars deep, they have coordinated with local law enforcement agencies to tackle traffic flow. Even the items they need have changed, including emergency boxes and shelf stable items like rice, pasta, and flour.
Prior to the crisis, a site in rural Texas would see 100-150 families a week, and one in Travis County would serve between 200-250 families a week. “Our numbers are through the roof right now,” said Beth. “At some sites, we’ve seen a 300% increase. At our larger distributions, we’re seeing upwards of 1,500 to 1,600 households. That’s in Travis County, Waco, and Temple. Those are very sobering numbers.”
The exponential increase in demand has also meant that Beth and her team have needed to educate government representatives on the extreme challenges the food bank is facing and need to keep in place waivers and safeguards for federal nutrition assistance programs that have been enacted in the wake of the pandemic. She recently coordinated a visit for a congressional representative to a distribution in Fredericksburg where he saw firsthand what’s happening on the ground. “That first hand experience is so important, “ said Beth. “Once you see what’s happening, that resonates and it changes the conversation and the relationship going forward.”
The silver lining of the crisis is the outpouring of community and volunteer support. The solidarity and dedication to helping those in need has been extraordinary. “It’s amazing to see how our volunteers and communities have come together to face this challenge with us. We have seen a groundswell of support. We have more volunteers than ever, which is incredible when you consider that these people are willing to put themselves in a potentially risky environment so their fellow community members don’t go hungry.”
Firestarters, stay tuned. Next week, we’ll hear from Ruben Cantu, Executive Director of the University of Texas at Austin’s Office of Inclusive Innovation and Entrepreneurship, about how the coronavirus is jumpstarting and transforming social justice work in Austin.
About the Series: #BeTheLight is a special campaign of #MovementMakerTribe that aims to bring positivity, optimism, and hope during these uncertain times as a result of the Corona virus.
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