It’s back to school time and children around our community wait in anticipation to make new friends, meet new teachers and learn new things. Many parents also await the beginning of school with hopes of reducing their stress. Parents like Imelda, who look to school as a place for her children to not only learn, but to also eat.
Since moving to San Antonio a few years ago, Imelda’s life has seen much struggle. Although she recently completed her certification as a medical assistant, finding a job has been difficult. Making ends meet has been even more difficult and she relies on community programs like the San Antonio food Bank to provide for her three daughters
Her girls attend the Guadalupe Community Center, a partner agency of the Food Bank which participates in the Kids Café, an after-school program. Kids Cafes are safe, nurturing places where neighborhood children can go after school and receive a hot supper as well as help with homework from caring volunteers or staff members. “During the school day, they eat at school and because of the Food Bank I know they will eat dinner after school, it’s one less thing I have to worry about,” she says.
Imelda says, “I don’t like being dependent on others for help. I want to work; I want to provide for my family. I am very thankful that the Food Bank exists to help me move forward. And I am grateful that I know my girls always have food.”
On a recent Farm Fresh Friday delivery, I was surprised and saddened at the look of confusion many of the young children had on their faces. In the bags of this particular distribution were squash, raspberries and cherry tomatoes. As I looked through a bag with one little girl, I asked her what was wrong. “What is all this? I’ve never seen these before,” she said with confusion.
In that moment I was grateful for people in our community who have helped us take our mission to fight hunger, one step further as we teach children about the food we eat. So often, many of the families we serve purchase foods with a shelf life, rather than food that truly nourishes life. As a result, children are almost barred from having any exposure to the fruits and vegetables that so often set our own tables.
As part of our expansion to provide more fruits and vegetables to children, we invite classrooms out to our own farm, to see how food is grown and where it is grown. Their bewilderment is soon replaced with excitement as they hold up carrots they helped to harvest. “I can’t wait to eat this!” “I can’t wait to share this with my grandma!” These are the statements our children should be making as they reach deep into bags of fruits and vegetables you have helped to provide.
Farm Fresh Friday is a weekly distribution made to area programs on Friday’s. Each bag contains fresh produce for the weekend and will often include a recipe a family adult can use to prepare a nourishing meal. As partners distribute bags to children, they remind them of the many fun and healthy ways they eat their vegetables. Many children arrive home prepared to instruct their families on a delicious recipe.
In addition to our Farm Fresh Friday distributions, the Food Bank provides gardening and nutrition classes to area children to engage them in the fun of eating healthy. Gardening classes teach them about the life of a vegetable and how they can grow a garden in their own backyard or porch.
Her voice still hoarse after being intubated for surgery to repair her broken shoulder after a fall, Genoveva struggles to talk. At 80, she and husband Juan, (86) have been married 56 years. They have participated in the senior program at Bethel Neighborhood Council for nearly 10 years; a blessing for the couple living on a fixed income. With some help from their children, Genoveva is the primary caretaker for Juan who is deaf and struggles with dementia. The two move around the lunch table slowly with their canes; Genoveva guiding Juan by the arm. Their monthly income is just slightly over the limit to qualify for food stamps, but not enough to ensure they have sufficient food to eat each month. They eat two meals at the center and often skip supper to ensure their food lasts. The commodities box they receive from Project HOPE supplements their meals from the center. When they run low on food a neighbor will often bring nachos to share with the couple. They are grateful for the help they receive from the center and the San Antonio Food Bank.
Last year, when asked what Thanksgiving might look like for her and her family, Laura’s response is not what you might expect for a family with four kids. “We’ll try to save everything we can,” she said, “but it will probably be mashed potatoes, maybe some fruit, and a turkey if we’re lucky.” It might not be the full, traditional spread most people are used to, but she hoped it would be a little something different to mark the holiday for her family. This trend of saving and stretching has been the reality for Laura and her husband for the past year, since just before her sister recommended she utilize the Food Bank’s services. Around that time, Laura was beginning to show signs of health issues. Soon after, she was diagnosed with several debilitating illnesses, making it impossible for her to continue working. In addition, her son’s autism required that she spend more time with him at home, eventually leading to her unemployment.
However, with Laura out of work and four kids to feed, her husband had to secure a second job. In spite of his workload, they began to struggle with meeting the families basic needs. Laura describes herself as a “do-it-yourself person”, so asking for, and accepting help, was difficult for her. On the most challenging days, she would often go without food to ensure that her kids were able to eat; sometimes sustaining herself with just a protein shake. In the hardest of times, she says the easiest thing to do is make lots of rice and to add soup to meals to make food stretch.
A recent Hunger study found that 7 in 10 households report having to choose between paying for food and other necessities like gas and utilities. Laura echoed this statistic saying that they rarely have enough money for both food and gas, requiring them to walk most places or to not leave at all. This means not doing things like spending holidays with family because they can’t afford the gas. Laura said that they often have to stretch the money for electricity and other utilities, leaving lights off in the house and instead using flashlights at night to save every penny to ensure her kids do not go hungry. Another statistic states that half of food insecure clients water down food or drinks in order to make them last longer. Laura agrees that this is a tactic used in their family, adding water to the milk to make it last, as well as eating meals comprised mostly of pancakes and spaghetti.
Laura expressed her frustration at not being able to do more on her own to provide food for her family, saying that when she lived in the countryside there was more available ground for growing food. However, since the family has had to relocate to a trailer community, gardens are not allowed. They try and grow some foods inside the trailer, but this cannot be relied on for large amounts of fresh food. When she thinks of all the good the Food Bank has done for her family, especially in the case of fresh food, she is grateful. She is able to get the foods that provide essential nutrition for her and her family, knowing that although it will still be tough, it won’t be impossible.
Looking to the future, Laura does not see the situation as permanent. Although her health issues are serious, she says that she is “still trying” and is “not going to let it put [her] in a box.” An obviously strong, empowered woman, she says that “disability just means I have more to overcome.” She looks forward to the day when they will be able to afford a place of their own, nothing fancy, but something that is just theirs. Her husband used to be a carpenter, and Laura says they will fix whatever they need if they find something they can afford. “This is only a season,” she insists, knowing that someday her family will not have to rely on the Food Bank. For now, she is thankful the Food Bank is there to help her in this time. This Thanksgiving, they will not go without.
The sidewalks are bustling as you walk up to the American GI Forum. Scattered with people who live there, and up the street at Haven for Hope. Some live nowhere. Some sing on the steps of the building. While others are begging for money.
American GI Forum is one of 535 partner agencies working with the San Antonio Food Bank to combat hunger in our community. Once a week, Rosemary Aguilar, am employee, picks up more than 1,000 pounds of food from the Food Bank, that will eventually be cooked and served to residents at the facility. She says food from the Food Bank accounts for nearly 90% of what they feed their veterans.
The facility has a capacity of 125 beds, which at any given time is nearly full with male and female residents who have served our country in the military. The program is intended to prevent homelessness amongst the population of veterans—many of who have no family or friends, and some who struggle with addiction after serving in the military. The past few years, the average age of residents Rosemary sees are between the age of 30-40. The facility serves both short-term and long-term residents, who have been honorably discharged from the military. Short-term residents are assisted in finding long-term housing needs and permanent residents have the comfort of a room in a dorm-style wing of the facility.
One of the veterans found in the lobby, isn’t a resident, but an employee. Mike served in the Navy for 10 years. He’s proud of the service he provided to his country. He loves working in an organization that supports and re-directs veterans. He explains why he thinks so many veterans he sees walk through these doors struggle with addiction. “When you send someone off to war, you don’t realize how much it changes them,” he says. “They don’t come back the same.” He goes on to explain how difficult the transition is from military life to civilian life. Many people can’t make it. He should know. Mike is one of them.
Mike isn’t just employed with a partner agency; he also has to seek assistance from partner agencies. When discharged in 2006, his family was succeeding financially and wanted for nothing. But when his job search had gone on a year, and his savings tapped out, Mike moved his family to Detroit to find work and live with his in-laws. Shortly, Detroit crashed and no one could find a job. Mike moved back to San Antonio to find work and was separated from his wife Shannon and their three girls for more than six months. It was hard for him moving from relative to relative while looking for work. He even took day labor jobs, lining up at 5:00 a.m. every morning, hoping he might get a job for the day. This wasn’t the future he had dreamed of when he said good bye to the military.
This is a life Mike never imagined for himself or his children. He feels blessed to have found the job at the American GI Forum. Employed, he quickly moved his family back to San Antonio and hoped to turn their lives around. He qualified for a veteran housing program and bought a home on the City’s east side. But soon, violence in schools made him and his wife feel uneasy about sending their girls to school, so Shannon began homeschooling. Now, the family struggles to make ends meet.
“I’m struggling each month to keep above debt, but we just can’t make it. Little things set us back—a broken down car, medical expenses. I feel like I’m constantly drowning,” Mike shares. Mike is a proud father and when he started “shopping” at his parents’ home for groceries he knew it was time to put his pride aside and ask for help. They applied for and received food stamps while they got back on track. Things were looking up and then started falling apart again. Not wanting to re-apply for food stamps, Mike chose to seek another form of assistance: food from a food pantry. “I feel embarrassed. There’s no other way to say it. What man would want to say I can’t provide for my family? But I know it helps us,” Mike says with his head down.
Mike is happy that he can be instrumental in helping vets get their lives back on track and improve their current situations. He knows many of the men and women who walk through his front doors would be homeless if it weren’t for the agency. He is equally grateful for the assistance of the Food Bank, “There aren’t enough words to express my family’s gratitude. I don’t want to think about what would happen to us if we couldn’t access the pantry. Even my elderly neighbor goes to the pantry. There are more people than you think who struggle to eat.”
This summer, the San Antonio Food Bank led an aggressive campaign to meet the needs of children who are at risk of food insecurity during the 11 weeks of school vacation. With your help, we collected food and funds to help provide more than a million summer meals for kids and their families. But the campaign isn’t over yet, as summer comes to a close and the excitement of school builds, there are still so many children who need our help.
Not only did we do a tremendous job ensuring that children, who may have gone hungry with no access to their usual school meals, were fed. But we also fed children food they have never had access to. Nine year old Alanah learned how to cook and eat spinach for the very first time in her life at our Healthy Cooking Class. Six year old Christy, who had never tasted a grape, yelled, “This is better than a cookie!” when she received her bag full of produce in our Farm Fresh Friday program.
We learned from children that their parents had to make tough choices. “My mom doesn’t buy that many fruits or vegetables because we can’t afford them,” said twelve year old Isaiah. A child should never know their parent has to make tough choices. The school year should be a time of learning and being a child.
Many children who receive food from the Food Bank are eager for school to start. When school is in, a meal is guaranteed. They look forward to a breakfast in the cafeteria with their friends and lunch in the same spot. Knowing they can rely on this meal, a child can focus on important learning. The San Antonio Food Bank happily ensures that an after-school snack and dinner are provided at the end of a long day. During the school year, the San Antonio Food Bank continues to nourish children through our after school Kids Cafés and our Friday Backpack Program. Both of which are often the last healthy meal of the day.
The future of so many children is directly impacted by our community and the support ensures children have the nutrition needed to excel in school and ultimately have access to better opportunities in life.
For more information about our Kids Cafe’s and Backpack Program, please contact (210) 431-8331 or visit safoodbank.org.
School Time Is Meal Time
School is just around the corner and for many children in our area, school doesn’t just mean access to education, it means consistent access to nutrition. One of the many ways the San Antonio Food Bank works to fight hunger is through our Kids Cafe Program.
What is a Kids Cafe?
A Kids Cafe confronts childhood hunger by serving as a direct feeding partnership between an area Food Bank and an after-school program. Kids Cafes are safe, nurturing places where neighborhood children can go after school and receive a hot supper as well as help with homework from caring volunteers or staff members. The San Antonio Food Bank sponsors several Kids Cafe sites, partnering with local after-school programs to bring this effective child nutrition program directly to the children and teens at the youth centers where they recreate.
Why are They Needed?
Each year in the United States, more than 25 million people visit a food bank because of hunger or food insecurity. Nearly 40 percent of emergency food clients are children. In San Antonio, one in four children experience hunger. Many children in low-income neighborhoods or rural communities do not receive well-balanced evening meals, either because their parents work late hours or they simply cannot afford good wholesome food. Children must receive proper nutrition in order to develop properly and perform well in school. Many Kids Cafes are located in central locations so that participating children can walk or bicycle to these sites after school for a hot meal and homework assistance from a caring adult.
Last school year, the San Antonio Food Bank provided more than 5,000 children with more than 65,000 meals through our Kids Cafe program. Children enjoyed the comfort of their after-school site and a hot meal with friends and loving teachers.
One such site, Presa Community Center, has partnered with the San Antonio Food Bank for nearly 13 years as a site for the Kids Café, BackPack Program and the Summer Food Service Program to ensure area children continuosly receive the nutrition they need. Franki Martin, Vice President of Presa Community Center, says, “To see a child’s faces lit up in gratitude is priceless. To know that the Kids Cafe has sparked those winning smiles is a wonderful feeling. Kids should not have to be worried about their next meal. To know that we are here to ease that burden is really important to us.”
As we approach the new school year, children are waiting to ask: what’s for dinner?!
To find a participating Kids Cafe near you, contact (210) 431-8331 or visit http://www.safoodbank.org.