As we look ahead to the use of the American Rescue Plan Act funds (ARPA), San Antonio and Bexar County leaders are working to engage the community and to gather feedback on how to best use the funds to support our continued response to COVID-19 and its impact on our city. During these community input sessions, Maria Villagómez, deputy city manager, outlined the need to gather input to align ARPA fund spending priorities to community needs

Now more than ever, it’s vital for us to make our voices heard as there’s strong potential to see the immediate sustainable impact of these funds. Having attended the community input session at the Mission Branch Library, needs like utilities and rent support, expanded high-quality early education access and after-school programming, mental health, senior assistance, homelessness and resiliency hubs were elevated to the top of the priority list. 

As a former school principal and board member of several nonprofits, I couldn’t help but be moved by the voices and inclusion of fellow community members who provided their heartfelt vision of a more equitable San Antonio.

One way to practice resiliency during the pandemic and during a crisis is by having alternative methods of accessing food, obtaining shelter and power, and having access to community to prevent isolation.

Gardopia Gardens has provided a safe environment to build community during the pandemic through activities such as gardening, agricultural learning, and outdoor community events and has provided the community with necessary resources such as the community tool library, a no-cost educational microfarm, and community food pantry. These resources work to build community resilience and self-reliance through practical knowledge such as growing your own food and maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle.

The city of San Antonio is interested in providing resiliency hubs to act as shelters and provide access to food during emergencies. Gardopia’s location on the East Side in a food desert makes it a prime candidate to promote resiliency both in times of crisis and in the day to day.

In early December, San Antonio City Council will review community input and recommendations from city staff on spending priorities for ARPA funds, as they will consider a plan for approval by mid-January. Of the total $326.9 million allocated to San Antonio, $97.5 million has already been approved for the fiscal year 2022 budget, leaving a remaining balance of $229.4 million. Part of the proposed spending framework includes items related to the COVID-19 response, addressing community needs, and impactful investment.

We encourage the community to make their voices heard by completing the Speak Up SA survey for ARPA funds. As an organization passionate about garden-based learning and community wellness, we hope to see the continued support of localized agencies advancing solutions to these critical issues.

We invite the community to our Winter Farmers’ Market on Saturday, December 4, from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. at Gardopia Gardens. This farmers market represents the close of the 2021 calendar year, celebrating community, partnerships, volunteerism, and the many urban agricultural initiatives leading the future for a more healthy San Antonio through garden-based learning.

David Nungaray is a member of the San Antonio Report’s Board of Community Advisors.

David Nungaray

David Nungaray is a bilingual consulting partner at The New Teacher Project.