Pharaoh Clark, center, founder of Uniting America Outreach, organizes boxes to hand out to marginalized families.
Pharaoh Clark, center, founder of Uniting America Outreach, organizes boxes to hand out to marginalized families. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

A San Antonio group working to distribute food to underserved areas on the East Side during the coronavirus pandemic says its efforts have been hindered by another pandemic in the city: racism.

Uniting America Outreach, a local group dedicated to aiding marginalized families, began working with Houston-based food distributor DiMare Fresh at the start of this month to complement the efforts of a food program already serving the South and West sides. Twice a week for the past three weeks, trucks with 24 pallets of food, about 1,500 boxes, have arrived on the South Side to be distributed to residents of the East Side.

But the arrangement followed weeks of what organizers said was reluctance from local government and nonprofits to partner with the group to distribute food on the East Side or help with logistics.

“We haven’t gotten any help,” said Pharaoh Clark, founder of Uniting America Outreach. “When we tell city leaders or other nonprofits, they just clap us on the back and tell us what we’re doing is needed, but they’re the ones who have the power to help.”

When the organization has contacted local businesses or other nonprofits, they’re onboard to help until they hear what side of town the supplies are going to, said Jolene “Josie” Garcia, a member of Uniting America Outreach.

Clark agreed with Garcia, saying he’s been astounded to hear how many people have backed out after finding out they would be helping to get food distributed on the East Side – an area of San Antonio with a historically high Black population. 

“There is a clear pandemic of racism in San Antonio,” Garcia said.

Food security benefits the East Side community immensely, Clark said, adding that food insecurity and crime rates tend to be linked. Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, demand for food relief has risen sharply across the city.

Clark began to make headway on his efforts only after meeting Pastor Martin Medellin at a Bexar County Commissioners Court meeting in late September. A group led by Medellin, Hope for the Hurting Ministries, had enlisted DiMare Fresh’s help at the start of the pandemic. The distributor has been sending trucks of food to the South Side and West Side several times per week since May, said Medellin.

“They’ve sent us as many as 10 trucks a week, and we just try to give out all that we can,” he said.

Clark contacted DiMare Fresh, “and they agreed to send us a truck of our own.”

Each box sent by DiMare Fresh and distributed by Clark’s group is filled with products including eggs, meat, milk, potatoes, fruit, and cheese, he said. The products are provided through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farmers to Families Food Box program, an initiative created by President Donald Trump and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue in April under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.

While getting the food from Houston to San Antonio hasn’t been an issue, finding a refrigerated truck to take the food from the loading dock on the South Side to the East Side, as well as getting a forklift and forklift insurance to unload the food, has been a challenge, Garcia said. 

“We’re used to mobilizing 10 to 200 people, so we have the manpower but we lack the resources” to pay for the necessary equipment, Clark said. 

So far, Garcia said they’ve had to rent refrigerated trucks and forklifts rather than use donated equipment, which has been costly. She said each delivery has personally she, Pharaoh, and other Outreach members have paid $800 to $1,000 per delivery “from out of [their] own pockets,” and with two deliveries a week, it’s adding up quickly. 

“I feel the people who have access to resources tend to be Hispanic, and there seems to be this attitude of, ‘We want to control this and protect this for our people,’” Clark said. “We are helping with deliveries on the West Side, too. … [We want] to help all communities that are in need.”

Clark said while he appreciates the help Hope for the Hurting Ministries has provided in starting these efforts and connecting him with the right people, Clark said there’s been resistance to using the ministry’s resources for Eastside deliveries.

“When we say we want to take [refrigerated trucks] to the to the East Side they say, ‘Oh, here’s a few more boxes. Just go distribute those,’ … but that’s not the same,” Garcia said.

Medellin said he wasn’t aware of any situations in which Clark’s group was meeting any resistance from Hope for the Hurting, but that his ministry is happy to help in any way it can.

One local company that has come to the aid of Uniting America Outreach is Lone Star Truck and Equipment, Garcia said. The truck company has lent a refrigerated truck and driver for several deliveries to the East Side, Clark said.

“They rented a refrigerated truck from us originally and then they told us what they are doing is nonprofit work to help feed people in the community,” said company owner Kyle Himes. “We try to help out as best we can, so we’ve been letting them use the truck.”

Clark and Garcia said they’ve both experienced food insecurity before and are just hoping to help others avoid that situation.

“We’re not asking for a handout, we’re asking for a hand up to help our community,” Clark said.

Lindsey Carnett covers the environment, science and utilities for the San Antonio Report. A native San Antonian, she graduated from Texas A&M University in 2016 with a degree in telecommunication media...