The Brazos Valley Food Bank helps feed those suffering from food insecurity in six different counties.
While the food bank is located in Brazos County, it also serves residents in Burleson, Grimes, Madison, Robertson and Washington counties. According to the Feeding America website, 15.1 percent of Brazos County residents faced food insecurity in 2018, which amounts to 33,200 individuals.
Brazos Valley Food Bank executive director Theresa Mangapora said individuals or families at risk of food insecurity may not know where they will get every meal. Families may be considered at risk for a variety of reasons.
“It may be more so that it happens toward the end of every month because they get paid once a month, and then [their] money is a little tighter,” Mangapora said. “Or an extra expense came up unexpected in that month, and something had to give.”
Mangapora said the food bank receives food from various sources, including public food drives, the United States Department of Agriculture, grocery stores and items the food bank purchases itself. The food bank then distributes the goods to agencies in the six counties it serves.
“People don’t come to us to get the food,” Mangapora said. “They are going to go to their neighborhood food pantry, but the food pantries get the food from us. They place orders to us online.”
Sorting and preparing the food for delivery takes much work, which is where volunteers come in.
Terry Rowan, a veteran and retired banker, spends four days a week at the food bank serving as a volunteer leader. Rowan said the primary task for volunteers is sorting.
“The [items from HEB or donations] come in the form of either food or non-food items,” Rowan said. “We would sort those…by product, and then we make up pallets of the product, and those go into the warehouse. Then when the agencies…put in place orders, the orders are pulled off those pallets to fill the orders.”
Volunteers can also work outside of the warehouse, helping with the garden or mobile food pantries, Mangapora said.
“We have a garden on-site, so we do have people that are helping with maintaining the garden,” Mangapora said. “We also have what are called mobile food pantries, where we take food to more isolated areas in our service area. We’ll set up at fairgrounds, and people drive-through and get food.”
The Brazos Valley Food Bank did not escape the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Although they were considered essential and never closed, Mangapora said the pandemic had a detrimental impact on the food pantry at first.
“When COVID-19 hit, the food supply was a mess, and we didn’t have a lot of money,” Mangapora said. “But now, this many months later, there’s all kinds of foundations, corporations and even federal grants that are available to help reimburse [us] for the COVID-19 expenses.”
Mangapora said the food bank supports those infected with COVID-19 through a special service that adjusts to the unique circumstances of those quarantining.
“We’re actually delivering what are called Q-kits,” Mangapora said. “These are seven days’ worth of shelf-stable food for people that have COVID-19 that are quarantined, can’t leave their house and do not have enough food in their house.”
The pandemic has also limited the number of volunteers the food bank can have helping at one time, Rowan said.
“We used to have fairly large groups come, maybe 25 people,” Rowan said. “Now we’re limited to 10 per shift.”
Despite this setback, the food bank has continued its operations. Rowan said part of the reason he volunteers at the food bank is to see first-hand the difference he is making in people’s lives.
“For me, it’s gratifying to see the appreciation all these people have for what we’re doing for them,” Rowan said. “That’s what makes it all worthwhile — when you see the look on these people’s faces that you know, without you, [would] go hungry.”
For more information about the Brazos Valley Food Bank’s work and how to volunteer, visit the Brazos Valley Food Bank website.