After experiencing historically low inventory levels at the beginning of September, the San Antonio Food Bank is beginning to rebound, said President and CEO Eric Cooper.
However, the food bank remains understocked as it tries to provide 58,000 meals per week to the hungry in 16 counties in Southwest Texas. Items most needed are protein sources such as peanut butter, tuna fish, canned meats, soups, and chili.
“As we came off of this past summer and got into September, it was just an incredibly empty warehouse for us at the food bank,” Cooper said.
Multiple factors – what Cooper called “a perfect storm” – played a part in the shortfall that left only a few weeks worth of nonperishable food on the shelves at one point in early September.
While the food bank was continuing to provide help to victims of Hurricane Harvey last year, it expanded its reach to feed kids who receive breakfast and lunch at their schools during the school year but don’t have access to as much food in the summer. At the same time, the food bank received fewer donations from traditional sources such as farmers, food manufacturers, grocery retailers, restaurants, hotels, and caterers.
“We rely on those donors to have donations for us, but the donations oftentimes come from surpluses or overruns or inefficiencies in the market, planning on selling more than they did,” said Coooper, who has led the food bank since 2001. “Over the last several years as technology has played a role in bringing efficiencies to the marketplace, it’s tightening up what food becomes available for donation.”
Texas ranks second in the nation for food insecurity, with one in six people living in homes where there isn’t enough food, according to the food bank. Cooper said approximately one-third of the meals it provides each week go to kids, one-third go to senior citizens, and one-third go to working adults who have low-paying jobs with little room in monthly budgets to absorb unexpected expenses.
So how does the food bank combat the technological advances that are helping grocers and restaurants and caterers hit their targets better, resulting in fewer donations?
“It’s something that we will continually work on,” Cooper said. “We’ve got to continue to invoke strategies around getting food from every part of the supply chain.
“It really starts with farmers who are growing crops – how do we work with them on their surplus and their bounty? They’ve covering maybe produce that is not going to market but will still put a nourishing meal on the table for someone in need. Then really educate and advocate and engage more volunteers to draw out some of those efficiencies. It really is a conundrum.”
Cooper said September is usually one of the lean times each year because of the food bank’s efforts to feed the hungry during the hot summer months. But it’s also a challenging time nationwide, which why Feeding America’s nationwide Hunger Action Month campaign is held in September. Feeding America is the country’s largest hunger-relief organization.
The San Antonio Food Bank collected 75.3 million pounds of food in the fiscal year that ended in June. It was a big year boosted by the generosity of many in the area in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.
Cooper said he has seen more of that generosity over the past month as word has spread that the food bank needs more donations. He’s hopeful donors don’t become fatigued with another busy time of year for the food bank coming around the holidays.
“We’re still kind of trying to get back on track,” Cooper said. “We’re not where we typically are when it comes to inventory on hand. But we’re optimistic in the action that has been put into place and the folks who are rallying.”