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2015-09-10

Feeding county's at-risk residents

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

Pam Thatcher, executive director of the Silver Sage Community Center, was on hand as Bandera County Commissioners approved a resolution to the Texas Department of Agriculture, which authorized a county grant of $15,000 to the center's Meals on Wheels program.
The grant will be used to "supplement and extend existing services for a home-delivered meal program for elderly, disabled or homebound county residents from Oct. 1 through Sept. 30, 2016."
In an interview, Thatcher said that volunteers with the program deliver 120 meals daily - all across the county. "Our drivers cover Bandera, Lakehills, Tarpley, Utopia and Vanderpool, as well as an area off Highway 46. The roundtrip drive to Utopia is 70 miles alone."
She continued, "Meals are delivered from the Silver Sage Monday to Friday. People don't realize how much effort it takes to get a meal out of the door."
During a special meeting on Tuesday, August 26, Judge Richard Evans asked Thatcher if the Meals on Wheels program could be supplemented with donations from the San Antonio Food Bank.
Her answer was yes - and no. "Food is available but the problem is that the food bank offers huge amounts [of raw food] and we have no storage facilities," Thatcher said. "They give out 100 pounds of lettuce and carrots at a time." She added that as designed, the Meals on Wheels program doesn't allow for food "handouts" and that clients "don't have the ability to prepare the food anyway."
Precinct 3 Commissioner Andy Wilkerson suggested that the Silver Sage work with other local food distribution centers such as Helping Hand and Faith Tabernacle on FM 1283 in Lakehills and divide the large amounts of food offered by the food bank.
Thatcher said she would arrange a meeting with representatives from those nonprofits to discuss Wilkerson's recommendation.
On Thursday, August 13, Eric Cooper, president of CEO of the San Antonio Food Bank, had offered commissioners information on his agency's supportive programs and services in the Bandera community.
Evans described the ongoing efforts of the SA Food Bank as "one of the greater success stories in this part of the world."
Cooper said his agency serves 16 counties and 535 nonprofits in southwest Texas, including Bandera and surrounding counties. In this county, food is regularly delivered to Faith Tabernacle, Helping Hand, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Bandera County and to the Medina Children's Home - now renamed Arms of Hope.
"More than half the food delivered in the county is distributed through Faith Tabernacle," Cooper said. "They do a tremendous job, but still struggle with distribution."
Last year, more than 823,000 pound of food - with a wholesale value of $1.4 million - was distributed in Bandera County alone, Cooper revealed, adding, "16.7 percent of the county's population is food insecure."
He described "food insecure," as county residents who are "either hungry or don't know where their next meal is coming from."
Cooper also told commissioners about new initiatives at the food bank, located at 5200 Old Highway 90 West, in San Antonio. "We have 25 acres on the facility grounds that are being used as a community garden," he said. "And working with the Texas Workforce Commission, we plan to offer culinary classes. We're trying to move our clients to self-sufficiency and self-reliance."
Cooper made a tacit appeal for support by local government to assist with the food bank's continued food donations for Bandera County's low- and no-income residents.
"Of the 16 counties we serve, half support the food bank. Our plea is for you to help us. Our transportation costs alone are $500 a month," he said, adding, "It's a challenge to feed 58,000 people a week."
According to Cooper, one dollar equates to seven meals. "We can stretch a dollar but we must have a dollar to stretch," he said.
According to information at http://safoodbank.org, only 2 percent of donations go toward administrative costs with 98 percent of donated resources going directly to food distribution programs. Additionally, the San Antonio Food Bank has consistently received the highest possible rating - 4-stars from Charity Navigator.
According to County Auditor Christina Moreno, at present, Bandera County does not contribute to the San Antonio Food Bank, but possible methods of compensation are currently being reviewed.