When San Antonio native and bestselling author Shea Serrano learned about the long lines at the San Antonio Food Bank’s ad hoc food distribution site at Traders Village last Thursday, he jumped into action.

Serrano, a sports and entertainment writer who has developed a reputation for using his Twitter following to generate impressive sums for various charitable causes, decided to make a donation. On Saturday, he took to Twitter to ask others to join him.

“I hate waiting in lines, which is just a thing that sucks by itself. But you have to consider you’re waiting in line to try to get food for your family and you’re there for six or eight hours or more. And maybe you have kids in the car. It’s a lot of sucky stuff all at once,” he said.

Since March 12, Serrano has been using his Twitter account, with more than 370,000 followers, to both call for donations and distribute the funds to people expressing need amid the COVID-19 crisis. To date, he estimates he’s facilitated the delivery of approximately $65,000.

Serrano said he knew it was only a matter of time before he did something focused on providing relief in San Antonio. News of the food bank lines spurred him into action.

Hoping to be able to deliver $25,000 or so, Serrano was shocked at the magnitude of the response. When he’d raised over $12,000 in the first 30 minutes, he knew something special was happening. 

“It was more than I ever thought we could do,” Serrano said of the $100,000 he raised over the weekend. 

“It’s very easy right now, with all that’s going on in the world, … to imagine yourself in that line,” he said. “And if you’re in that line, you’d probably want someone to help you, too.”

Serrano said that approximately 3,000 people contributed, most in amounts ranging from $3 to $20. 

“I’m just sort of a megaphone in this case,” he said of his role in securing the donation for the food bank, which is being dispersed this week.

San Antonio Food Bank’s chief resource officer Michael Guerra said that he and his team were immediately excited when they became aware of Serrano’s efforts.

“We never doubted he’d exceed expectations,” he said of Serrano. “He’s such a sincere person and has such a great following of caring, generous individuals who know how to go viral.”

Guerra said that the food bank typically serves about 60,000 people per week to the tune of $3 million, but both of those numbers have doubled amid the current crisis. He said that his team is worried about how they will manage if these increased numbers hold steady or even continue to grow.

Guerra said that the surge of donations over the weekend was encouraging.

“This is as big as I’ve ever seen local philanthropy, and I’ve been doing this for 10 years in San Antonio and 15 years in Austin before that,” he said. “It’s unprecedented.”

With the food bank back at work this week, providing relief to local families in need, Guerra hardly has time to savor any sense of victory that goes along with such a windfall. 

He did, however, have some kind words for Serrano.

“I appreciate him first as the great writer that he is, but now that I’ve gotten to see him as a fundraiser, as a philanthropist, as a catalyst for people to do good — he’s an even better catalyst for good than he is a writer, and we know he’s the best of writers.”

James Courtney

James Courtney is a freelance arts and culture journalist in San Antonio. He also is a poet, a high school English teacher and debate coach, and a proud girl dad.