“We’ve been operating out of the same warehouse for the last 40 years,” Beatriz Hanson, executive director of the Coastal Bend Food Bank, said of its current facilities, which she has overseen for the last 26 years. “When I started food banking, we would distribute over 2 million pounds of food every year. Now we distribute 13 million.”
The Coastal Bend Food Bank (CBFB) serves 11 counties in South Texas, several of which regularly rank among the lowest incomes per capita in the state of Texas. Between an ever-growing population and inflating prices of food, the needs of the people have expanded faster than most systems can account for. The space between much-needed resources and the people who need them is expanding, too — but CBFB seeks to bridge that gap.
“The new building can fit five times the amount of food as the last,” Hanson explained. The new facility includes a 6,000-sq.-ft. freezer, a nearly 8,000-sq.-ft. cooler and a 3,000-sq.-ft. cooling dock. “Every step in the process [of handling food] is important. Keeping the food cool, making sure it’s stored properly … and it all costs money.”
Streamlining the process doesn’t just mean more mouths fed; it also means being able to withstand the constant flux of change … and in the worst cases, disaster. “With the new facility, we’ll have the relief of knowing we can keep running. While we are always prepared for the worst, it is a relief not to have to worry about things breaking down,” Hanson explained. She also recalled the challenge of new disasters, like the entirely unexpected ones of the pandemic, which blindsided even the best-equipped institutions. “We learned we could do things we had never tried, like drive-thru distribution. The need was there and we did it. We never stopped working.”
The road to success was not easily or painlessly paved. “When we failed [to raise funds] for the last facility, we failed badly,” Hanson recalled the last attempt at building out, seven years prior. “With this one, I was really panicking. This new building costs $30 million, much more than the last.” So between days of tireless work, she prayed for some small miracle — which ultimately came in the not-so-small package of a $9 million check from MacKenzie Scott, ex-wife of billionaire and Amazon executive chairman Jeff Bezos. “I had to Google her,” Hanson admitted, laughing. “I couldn’t believe it!” The food bank met its capital campaign goal in less than two years, after a string of small, uncanny miracles and steadfast effort from its team.
In addition to alleviating the food insecurity many in the region face, Hanson emphasized that the goal of the food bank is to feed people well in light of epidemics affecting people in the area, like diabetes. The shift in thinking from food distribution as a means of simply getting people edible goods to provision and distribution of nutrient-rich and sufficient foods for those in need is a critical one at this stage, Hanson said. The food bank also provides an array of nutrition classes for the public and programs for children in school facing food insecurity.
The new facility is set to begin operations this fall, and although space should not be an issue, Hanson highlighted a persistent need common across helping professions: “The food bank only has 42 employees. It is through the community and volunteers that we are able to do this immense job. We are all important in this mission to feed people, and to feed them well.”
Contact: coastalbendfoodbank.org | @coastalbendfoodbank