On a clear day on April 9th of last year, 10,000 cars filled several lanes of a San Antonio highway leading to Traders Village where the San Antonio Food Bank was hosting a food distribution. The wait was long, but worth it to the families seeking food assistance–all total, the Food Bank provided food that day to feed 50,000 individuals. The food had been donated to the Food Bank by 500 food partners such as HEB, aided by cash donations from
nearly 100,000 Texans.
Similar days would follow. From January 2020 through June 21 more than 88 million pounds of food had been distributed to families in need. Successfully managing such a large-scale distribution effort required a dedicated staff numbering 260 employees aided by 72,000 volunteers. For the past twenty years, Eric Cooper, the Food Bank CEO, has managed food assistance with military-like precision. Feeding Texans is his passion. The Food Bank is a model national program, and the San Antonio Food Bank led by Cooper has been recognized as one of the best in the charity world.
During the pandemic of 2020 community health leaders faced unprecedented challenges: the level of hunger, especially for low income families, reached new heights. An example of the need was reflected in the case of Elsa and Joe. When they arrived at the Food Bank distribution center in San Antonio, they told a volunteer: “We only have money for groceries for the next two days. When someone asked me to open my truck and your employees started to fill it with groceries, I started to cry.” Elsa and Joe speak for thousands of others in similar situations. Many arriving that day had lost their jobs in the midst of the pandemic and struggled to feed their families.
I have lived in San Antonio for most of my life, but until the Food Bank story appeared on the national news last year, I knew little about it. That story enlightened me and other members of my family. It was apparent that the Food Bank organization merits greater coverage. The staff and volunteers at the Food Bank worked bravely throughout the Covid crises to feed San Antonio Families.
One of those many talented staff is Gina Macias, an employee of the Food Bank since 2012. Gina Macias grew up in San Antonio’s Southside attending St. Joseph’s Catholic School and Incarnate Word High School. She earned a degree in English from the University of Houston. Her career path to the Food Bank began with two different professional sports teams: the Houston Texans, followed by several years with the marketing unit of the San Antonio Spurs. The work with the Spurs was exciting and gratifying, but the hours were long. Macias next landed a job at Clear Channel Communications where the sports news kept her busy. Nonetheless, she made time to volunteer with the Food Bank.
Macias is a proud member of a Food Bank team that includes dedicated employees working through various means to assure the preparation of 120,000 meals per week. She uses her communication skills and her leadership and engagement strategies to make things run smoothly at the Food Bank.
Over the past twenty years the Food Bank has vastly expanded its outreach and services. It currently serves 68 million meals annually across 29 Southwest Texas counties. In addition, it operates three community kitchens. At the Haven for Hope, the Food Bank feeds thousands of homeless weekly.
The highly experienced chefs in the Food Bank’s large modern kitchen also help in job training programs associated with culinary skills. On a typical week Macias might visit with the food partners or assist in the processing and assignment of the 1,000 volunteers who show up on a weekly basis, something I experienced first hand on a busy Saturday morning with my wife and two grandchildren, Lily, age 11, and Emmett, age 9. Teams of volunteers and Food Bank staff filled grocery bags and boxes with fresh vegetables, canned goods, and dairy products and loaded them in the trunks of cars beginning at 8 am.
The Food Bank is not far from where Gina Macias grew up. Located on the Southwest side of San Antonio, the 200,000 square foot facility occupies 40 acres of land. Large trailer trucks come in and out throughout the day delivering food and supplies. An extensive parking lot is reserved for the many volunteers who come to the facility daily, contributing to more than 400,000 volunteer hours a year.
The Food Bank also responds remarkably well to disasters. When the pandemic struck South Texas in early March of 2020, the Food Bank stepped up its programs of feeding children who were out of school. Over the next twelve months, nearly 3,000 individuals benefited from the Food Bank’s nutrition education program. During the Texas Winter Storm of 2021, Food Bank workers and volunteers provided almost 100,000 pounds of supplies for those without water and electricity.
One of Gina Macias’ goals is to help feed every single Texan that faces hunger, and she believes that the more people know about the Food Bank, the more likely the Food Bank will be able to achieve that goal. Macias finds her work immensely gratifying. She is an excellent example of the many talented individuals at the Food Bank committed to making a difference in their community.
(1San Antonio Food Bank warehouse. Photo by Ricardo Romo
2Saturday morning volunteers at the Food Bank distribution center. Dr. Harriett Romo, Lily and Emmett. Photo Ricardo Romo)