Hunger is something everyone can relate to. Some are fortunate to experience it as a fleeting sensation, a gentle reminder, but others feel it deeply, relentlessly, oppressively. While hunger is a huge issue worldwide, it’s a pressing issue here at home, too. In such a food-obsessed culture, it’s easy to focus more on the haves than have-nots and miss such glaring problems affecting our friends, neighbors, and family.
1 in 7 Central Texans are at risk, only 7% of which are unhoused, while food waste is rampant at every level of production and distribution. That old model doesn’t stand a chance, especially if The Central Texas Food Bank has anything to say about it.
Serving over 60,000 people every week across 21 counties equivalent to the size of Massachusetts, I was lucky enough to get an inside view of the operations. Headquartered a short drive from downtown Austin, this hub of activity thrums with a whole different sort of energy. At any given time, a half dozen forklifts are buzzing through the immense maze of the warehouse, stacked from floor to ceiling with pantry staples, while semitrailers unload directly into the walk-in fridge and freezer, each bigger than the average gymnasium. You could easily get lost in the 135,000 square foot facility without a guide or a map.
It’s not all dry beans and pasta, though. Contrary to the common misconception, there’s a selection of fresh produce here that could put a mid-tier grocery store to shame. In fact, over a quarter of the food items moving through this building are fresh fruit and vegetables. Much of that is rescued, prevented from going into landfills for petty reasons like blemishes, odd sizes, or simply oversupply. Over 28 million pounds of produce was saved from that fate, putting into the hands of those who need it most.
That alone makes a huge impact, but that’s not enough. The Central Texas Food Bank is committed to uprooting the old system from the ground up, quite literally. Just beyond the loading docks lay two extensive gardens: One for teaching, one for larger production.
They’ve truly though of everything, including wheel chair-accessible raised beds, examples of container gardens for those without yards, and a classic “pizza garden” to appeal to kids. It feels like such a rare and beautiful opportunity to connecting with nature, providing both education and inspiration to grow your own food, no matter the circumstances.
Let’s not overlook the commercial kitchen, preparing meals for the community while providing culinary training for job placement at the same time. It becomes a self-sustaining system, but only with the proper support. Volunteers are the heartbeat of the operation, sorting donations in the warehouse, distributing it through mobile pantries, delivering it to those without transportation, and more. There are plenty of hands on deck during the holidays, but there’s a continuous need throughout the year. There’s never a bad time to help, no matter how much or how little, because time is an incredibly precious resource too.
The Central Texas Food Bank gives me a profound sense of hope. There’s such unwarranted shame and stigma that remains surrounding the issue of hunger at large which is detrimental to absolutely everyone. Who wins when so many suffer? This operation is proof that it doesn’t have to be that way. Anyone that needs help, gets help. With this revolutionary approach, it is possible to stop hunger in its tracks and nourish the community.