Sylvia Garza first came to the San Antonio Food Bank seeking food assistance. She got that help, and thanks to a new federally-funded partnership, Garza was also offered resources to help address the root cause of her food insecurity: unemployment.

Garza, 53, is now taking classes at the new Workforce Solutions Alamo Career Center, located on the second floor of the food bank’s headquarters, that she hopes will lead to steady work.

She is one of 600 people who have already taken advantage of the first-of-its-kind partnership, thanks to a pilot program rolled out in March.

On Friday, officials from the San Antonio Food Bank and Workforce Solutions Alamo (WSA) celebrated the center’s official launch, which is funded through grants from the U.S. Department of Labor aimed at retraining workers whose jobs were lost due to the pandemic.

“Hunger is not about food. Food is not the solution. What will end hunger … is a meaningful job,” said Eric Cooper, CEO of the San Antonio Food Bank. 

Eric Cooper, CEO and president of the San Antonio Food Bank, speaks during a ribbon cutting ceremony for the Workforce Solutions Alamo Career Center at the Food Bank on Friday.
Eric Cooper, CEO and president of the San Antonio Food Bank, speaks during a ribbon cutting ceremony for the Workforce Solutions Alamo Career Center at the Food Bank on Friday. Credit: Nick Wagner / San Antonio Report

Many people seeking food assistance through the food bank may not be connected or aware of workforce services, said Adrian Lopez, CEO of WSA; this partnership aims to make it easy to help people learn the skills they need to find good jobs.

Those who enroll in the free program will work with career counselors to create a program unique to their needs. Some will be in the program for a shorter time and others longer as they build skills needed for employment. Upon completion, the career center at the food bank will also provide job placement assistance.

The food bank, along with local partners, has for years offered a number of training programs, in culinary and warehouse industries and job assistance and readiness services. The establishment of the career center expands those efforts.

Three Workforce Solutions Alamo staff members will now work at the new career center full time, said Lopez.

“There’s thousands of people coming to the food bank for food on a weekly basis,” said Lopez. Now that the program is officially launched, he added, they’re expecting enrollment in the program to rise. “It’s about meeting people where they’re at. A food bank is so critical to people’s lives in San Antonio.”

In addition to the onsite career center, Lopez said, the plan is to launch a mobile unit in the spring of 2023, to bring workforce development training to food bank pantries across the county.

The two federal grants funding the program from the Labor Department’s Employment and Training Administration were awarded back in 2020, as the pandemic threw millions of Americans out of work.

Connecting those in need of job training through the food bank makes sense, said Mayor Ron Nirenberg, who called the new partnership “essential fuel” to encourage economic mobility in the city. 

“Neighbors seeking help from the food bank are often, and almost always, in need of other assistance,” he said at the ceremony Friday. “Employment and training assistance in particular. Far too many San Antonians are one crisis away from a financial disaster.”

This partnership will complement the city’s taxpayer-funded $230 million SA Ready to Work, Nirenberg said. That program launched in May with the goal of placing more than 15,000 people in new jobs over five years.

Creating jobs in growing fields and well-paying careers is the most important way to help people reach stable, long-term solutions, he added.

The federally funded program will complement the city’s $230 million Ready To Work program, said Nirenberg, which aims to employ San Antonio residents. The WSA will work to employ people across several counties.

On Friday at the career center, Garza and her adult son attended a class on how to use a laptop — something Garza said she had never used before. With assistance, she also set up a LinkedIn profile, to more easily apply for jobs.

Garza said she was excited at the prospect of earning her own laptop — a perk confirmed by a spokeswoman with the food bank, who said those who enroll in classes through the career center have the opportunity to earn a free laptop through a partnership with Google Fiber and LinkedIn Learning, which aims to shrink the digital divide.

Garza is confident in her job prospects, thanks to the new career center.

“This is a great program to come to,” she said. “I think everybody should come if they’re in desperate need of help. This is the place they should be.”

Raquel Torres is the San Antonio Report's breaking news reporter. A 2020 graduate of Stephen F. Austin State University, her work has been recognized by the Texas Managing Editors. She previously worked...