Shared from the 11/25/2018 San Antonio Express eEdition

CHARITY

FOOD BANK AROUND FOR NEARLY 40 YEARS

Farmland, warehouse space both have expanded

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Staff file photo

Volunteers from USAA pack boxes of food for seniors last November at the San Antonio Food Bank, which opened in December 1980.

The idea of a local food bank took shape nearly 40 years ago, with a local nun wanting to fight hunger, possibly the world’s worst threat to human health.

Today, the San Antonio Food Bank each week serves 58,000 individuals in 16 counties, distributing 74 million meals annually, according to its website.

In May 1980, the San Antonio Express reported that the notion of a central site to store food, then supply it through social service agencies to the poor, was coming alive.

“Our main point is to make this a community-based project, free of political ties, although we would love the city’s endorsement,” Sister Mary Helen Sullivan, then serving as a hunger ministry coordinator affiliated with the Catholic Church, told the newspaper.

Sullivan has been credited with bringing the vision of a food bank to San Antonio after attending a 1978 conference on hunger in Phoenix, home to the central offices of Second Harvest, a national food distribution network.

The local food bank, based on a concept developed in the 1960s, opened in December 1980, serving Bexar and 11 surrounding counties.

It originally dispensed food through 60 pantries and nutrition sites at churches and community centers. Corporate sponsors furnished vehicles and volunteers, while grocery companies and restaurants supplied daily food donations.

The food bank began with a 4,500-square-foot warehouse just south of downtown. In 2014, it doubled the warehouse space at its facility off Texas 151 on the far West Side. It also added to its farmland.

“This is a strategy that will allow us to better nourish those we help feed,” food bank CEO Eric Cooper said.

The $15 million expansion includes the Harvey Najim Children’s Pavilion and 20 acres of farmland behind it. The new acreage augments the existing 2-acre Spurs Community Garden.

Food bank staff and volunteers will grow more vegetables for the program on the bigger farm, Cooper said.

The expansion’s goal was not necessarily to increase the number of people served, but to provide more variety in types of foods available through emergency assistance at food pantries, soup kitchens and other programs and facilities that work with the food bank, he said.

The 106,000-square-foot warehouse addition, which adjoins an existing warehouse of almost the same size, includes new freezer and refrigeration space to store more fresh food.

In Bexar County, 17 percent of residents — or more than 260,000 people — dealt with food insecurity in 2010, studies show.

This report is a compilation of an article by Scott Huddleston that ran Nov. 20, 2005, and one by Melissa Fletcher Stoeltje that ran Jan. 16, 2014.

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