When Dorthy Winfield  saw an elderly man walking slowly down Callaghan Road pushing a shopping cart across the street from an apartment complex, she dropped what she was doing and ran across the street to see if the man needed food. 

Winfield is a program director with the American Agape Foundation, a nonprofit specializing in affordable housing that hosted a pop-up food pantry on Thursday morning to distribute food to the residents of the Avistar on the Hills apartment complex. The complex, the foundation, and its housing partner Foresight Asset Management work together to ensure the daily needs of residents are met.

The food distribution was the third for American Agape, which has handed out more than 500 boxes of food containing fresh produce, rice, and beans since March, when the impact of the coronavirus pandemic started hitting the unemployed, elderly, and disabled particularly hard, Winfield said. “Food is so important, so we have really been working on making sure people have access to it,” she said.

While mass food distribution events hosted by the San Antonio Food Bank have drawn thousands since the pandemic began, these smaller-scale giveaways play an equally vital role in ensuring that the city’s vulnerable residents don’t go hungry.

The donations were provided by Eco Centro, the environmental sustainability hub at San Antonio College, which provides free produce deliveries to students, faculty, and staff in need throughout the school year in partnership with local farmers market The People’s Nite Market.

The food came from Houston-based produce distributor DiMare Fresh and was funded by part of a $50 million USDA grant as part of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, said Jovanna Lopez, urban agriculture community coordinator for Eco Centro. 

“They have been sending us boxes since the beginning of June, and we have been able to distribute around 300,000 pounds of food in less than two months,” Lopez said.

Sometimes a last minute-donation comes in that is distributed on a first-come, first-served basis at such sites as San Antonio Housing Authority complexes, Folklores Coffee shop in Government Hill, and at area nonprofits. 

This week, Eco Centro received 5,000 surplus boxes, which were passed on to the American Agape Foundation for distribution.

The donations were meant to be split between residents at Avistar on the Hills on Callaghan Road and the Crossing at 1415 apartments on Babcock Road near the Medical Center, Winfield said, but when people heard food donations were available, people from all over San Antonio started showing up. 

(center) Margie Ortiz, program coordinator at Avistar on the Hills, brings delivers a box of food to a community member. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

The response indicates the increased need for food throughout the community, Winfield said.

And while she was concerned there’s wouldn’t be enough boxes for the apartment residents, Winfield gave a food box to anyone who asked for one. She also offered food boxes to those who did not ask, and sometimes asked people who arrived together who weren’t residents to share a box to make the donations go further.

“If they need it, we want to feed them,” Winfield said.

Margie Ortiz, a program coordinator with the American Agape Foundation, lives at Avistar on the Hills and helps residents needing childcare assistance. She helped distribute the food boxes to residents, and said she makes sure any resident who doesn’t show up for a food distribution gets a box gets delivered to them. 

“I just try to help people in any way I can,” Ortiz said. “I know who needs the help.”

One such resident was Linda Rodriguez, who said she has a hard time with reading and counting money, in addition to difficulty getting to a grocery store on her own without a car, so the donations relieve a lot of daily stress. 

“It’s hard for me to get food, and I don’t have [any] help” from family members, said Rodriguez, whose income is limited to disability payments.

Linda Rodriguez, resident of Avistar on the Hills, walks her dog, Lucia, on the grounds of the complex. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Ortiz said that whenever there is a food donation, she makes sure Rodriguez is taken care of. “We always make sure she has her food,” Ortiz said, “because we know how important it is.”

Roseanna Garza

Roseanna Garza

Roseanna Garza reports on health and bioscience for the San Antonio Report.

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Samantha Ruvalcaba

Samantha Ruvalcaba, who grew up in San Antonio, is a Shiner intern and junior at St. Mary's University studying international and global studies with a minor in communications.