Food Pantry Thinks Outside the Box to Bring Healthy Food to Latinos in Need

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Providing a week’s worth of healthy food and toiletries to families in need is the goal of Jessie Fisher and her nonprofit food pantry, the Randolph Area Christian Assistance Program (RACAP), in Schertz, Texas (29.3% Latino). But when food demand grew faster than the supply, Fischer and RACAP had to think quickly. They set up partnerships to gather leftover food from restaurants and grocers, pick up unwanted fruit from residents’ yards, and receive meat donations from hunters. They also launched food drives that yielded thousands of pounds of healthy food for Latino and other families during high-demand summer times.

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Jessie Fisher and her dedicated group of volunteers help ensure food is given to those who need it in Schertz, TX.

Jessie Fisher and her dedicated group of volunteers help ensure food is given to those who need it in Schertz, TX.

Emergence: Food Insecurity in Schertz

Schertz, Texas (29.3% Latino population) is a fast-rising, increasingly Latino (18.1% in 2000 and 26.6% in 2014) community just north of San Antonio (63.2% Latino).

Schertz is more affluent than San Antonio, with a higher median household income ($72,463 vs. $46,317) and fewer people living in poverty (7.3% vs. 20.1%).

However, resident Jessie Fisher knew parts of her community struggle with food insecurity, which means they don’t have access to or money for healthy, nutritious food.

Texas is one of eight states to have higher rates of food insecurity than the nation overall. In Bexar County, where most Schertz residents live, one of five people is eligible to receive federal food stamp assistance, yet only about half actually participate in the program.

“People don’t generally think of an area like ours (Schertz) as having to deal with issues like poverty and hunger, but it exists,” Fisher said.

Filling this food gap was a reason the Randolph Area Christian Assistance Program (RACAP) formed in 1983.

More than 20 religious and civic organizations banded together to pool their resources—discretionary monies, parishioner resources, and organizational strength—with a goal of improving the community.

“The conversation started with a group of pastors at some of the churches in the area,” said Fischer, who directs the RACAP program. “It was all organic. This group usually would meet to discuss church matters in the area and the topic of doing more for the community came up.

“After several discussions, they came to the realization that, to help as many people in the community as possible, that was going to take more effort than anyone of these churches and groups could do.”

Development: Food Pantry Starts to Fill the Food Gap

Upon formation, the RACAP group discussed and researched community needs.

Food insecurity was a constant theme. Many families fell through cracks of aid that could be provided, Fischer said.

RACAP started as an emergency, nonprofit food pantry. RACAP provides a week’s worth of healthy food, toiletries, etc., for qualifying families, using money and food donated by the community.

RACAP provides a week's worth of free food to families that qualify.

RACAP provides a week’s worth of free food to families that qualify.

“Our main focus is providing emergency groceries for people,” Fisher said. “We also provide limited amounts of financial assistance, prescription medicine, and utility assistance to in-need residents of nine zip codes.”

Families can apply for food assistance once in a 12-month period. Working with local and state agencies, Fisher assesses the financial needs of families applying for aid.

“The way we determine who is eligible for our services is the government-determined poverty guidelines,” said Fisher. “However, if circumstances warrant it, we can make an exception. These are determined case by case.”

In its first full year of operation in 1984, RACAP assisted about 350 families (1,200 people). However, as Schertz grew in size, so did people’s hunger.

“There was a time when the need was becoming far greater than what we had in terms of resources,” Fisher said. “We had to do more.”

Enactment: Pantry Makes Unique Changes to Meet Growing Food Demands

RACAP was especially strained by demand during the summer months when many students in low-income homes did not have access to free school breakfasts or lunches.

“When I came on board, I knew one of the main things we needed to do was shore up our supply of food, especially during the summer,” Fisher said. “It came to me that more partnerships in our community were going to be needed.”

It was at this point that Fisher went to work.

For months, she reached out into the community, activating people around the increasing need for access to healthy food, and creating new partnerships.

Fisher led several key changes at RACAP:

  • They arranged for local restaurants to donate leftover food to the pantry.
  • They arranged for local grocery stores to donate leftover food to the pantry.
  • They began, though intermediaries, receiving unwanted fresh fruits from local property owners.
  • They worked with hunters to secure donated meats to store in their deep freezers

All of these moves aimed to ensure RACAP could sufficiently grow to meet the demands of the community for access to healthy food. Fisher and RACAP didn’t stop there.

RACAP now has the backing of 26 area churches and organizations that are committed to growth and providing for the future.

RACAP now has the backing of 26 area churches and organizations that are committed to growth and providing for the future.

Implementation: Food Drive Help Supplement Summer Meals for Kids

Fisher now has recruited a strong network of volunteers who help collect, sort, and store all the food donations.

With the increased capacity to serve the community in place, Fisher and RACAP continued to explore how to specifically meet demand for healthy meals for children during the summers and holidays.

They reached out to a local gravel company, Hanson Aggregates–Servtex Quarry.

“We found out that RACAP doesn’t really do any of their own food ‘driving,’” said Jake Sherer, Quarry Manager at Hanson Aggregates-Servtex Quarry.

So the company decided to conduct an internal holiday food drive to donate to RACAP. After a successful drive, they expanded to conducting a summer food drive.

“In 2015, 3,400 pounds of food was collected … and that exceeded our wildest expectations,” Sherer said. “It was even bigger in 2016.”

Fisher and her volunteers worked with the group from Hanson to make partnerships with cities in the smaller cities in the area and the local school district. With all of these partnerships in place, the food drives ensured that over 1,000 children in the area would be provided food for the summer months.

The now 26-member coalition of organizations has fully committed to RACAP’s future and growth, Fisher said.

“Our work is something that is truly important to this community,” Fisher said. “I know I’m the only full-time employee here, but it really takes all of us. When you have people in need, it’s the duty of everyone to help. We use a scripture from the Bible as one of our mottos, John 21:17. It says ‘Jesus said, ‘Feed my sheep.’ That’s our mission and that is what we will continue to do.”

Additional Links:

www.racap.org

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ABOUT THE PROGRAM

Salud America! The RWJF Research Network to Prevent Obesity Among Latino Children is a national program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The program aims to educate researchers, decision-makers, community leaders, and the public in contributing toward healthier Latino communities and seeking environmental and policy solutions to the epidemic of Latino childhood obesity. The network is directed by the Institute for Health Promotion Research at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.

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