I love working with content producers, but am also happy to do the writing. Here are excerpts from the Food Bank newsletter I wrote in 2015 and 2016. It includes a lead client story, a secondary feature about a new pilot program, and even a message from the President & CEO.
Cancer Survivor Seeks Fresh Produce to Aid in Her Recovery
Cancer treatment hasn’t dulled Alicia’s spark. As she moves through the line at the Mobile Food Pantry she makes cheery conversation with every volunteer. Alicia was diagnosed with breast cancer in November of last year. As families prepped for the holidays, she had to prep for her first surgery on December 3rd. Her second surgery was supposed to be on Christmas Eve, but she insisted doctors push it back so she could enjoy the holiday with her family.
“I was like - no, no, no - I’m not going to be in that much pain at Christmas time. So two days after Christmas I went back into surgery”
She doesn’t dwell on the negative though, instead she shares fond memories of the last holiday season spent with her 4 younger sisters and their families.
“Last year actually was really awesome. I had my family rallied around. I had Christmas at my house and it was awesome, everybody came to my house. All my nieces, all my nephews, all my sisters.”
Two more surgeries and radiation therapy followed, leaving Alicia tired and unable to return to work. Her family stepped in to help. She lives with her oldest son, who at 25 years old is shouldering the responsibility of helping his mother when she needs it most. He pays the rent and bills, and does the grocery shopping. This is what brings Alicia to the food pantry this morning.
“I need the help to help my son. So the food I bring is for me and he can enjoy his own… I want to take the strain off of him.”
Alicia also wants to make sure she’s getting enough fruits and vegetables so she’s following doctor’s orders and eating healthy.
“I figured I would come out and try to get some fruit for myself because my son, he can buy his own food and he’s been paying all my bills since I started going through treatment… but the fruit and vegetables at the grocery store, the prices are ridiculous. I know my oncologist is always telling me you need to eat right.”
Before her diagnosis, Alicia worked in home health care as a certified nursing assistant who also performed wound care. She often worked with cancer patients who were bedridden, giving her a unique perspective on her own treatment. She jokes that nurses, like doctors, also make terrible patients.
“I make the worst patient, but I also make a great advocate”.
On days she has more energy she does exactly that, filling her time helping advocate for Breast Cancer Services in the Austin community. Cancer wasn’t new to Alicia’s family. Her mother is also a survivor who beat the odds when battling stage four breast cancer 12 years ago, so it’s a cause she’s become very passionate about.
“Now I’m an advocate. If you’ve got a history of cancer in your family, breast cancer especially, it’s never too early to get yourself checked.”
Alicia is now hopeful that she is in remission and looking forward to peace of mind this holiday season, more time spent with her family and her mother’s famous buttermilk pie. She’s also extremely thankful for everyone who’s helped her along the way on her tough journey.
“Especially when I was going through treatment and my son was paying for all my medications and hospitalizations, the Food Bank was a big help for me to get food in the house. If it wasn’t for them I don’t know where I’d be, and I don’t where a lot of other people would be either without the Food Bank.”
Looking ahead, Alicia is excited to get back on her feet and make sure everyone has access to help when they need it.
“When I get to the point that I can give back, I plan on giving back too. Give back to the community.”
Pilot Program Helps Clients Find Stability
The Capital Area Food Bank of Texas often partners with organizations that serve the same population in an effort to create a more profound impact on people’s lives. While food is critically important to our clients, it is just one piece of the puzzle and clients often need other resources to make their lives more stable.
In an effort to holistically address client needs, the Capital Area Food Bank of Texas ran a pilot program this fall that worked with local partners to bring extra support to some very hard working people.
The project started when Lauren Bednarski, an Economic Opportunity Vista from Feeding Texas working at the Food Bank, interviewed clients and partners to see what their greatest needs were. When clients time and again asked for job readiness, GED and general adult education classes it was clear that there was a need that had to be met.
The Food Bank’s solution was the Scholarship Pantry Pilot Program which utilizes food vouchers to incentivize and support community members while they are working on training opportunities. Vouchers were handed out to students who attended GED, ESL, job readiness, financial education and other life skills classes through the Literacy Coalition, United Way and Goodwill. The vouchers entitled students to double the food from a participating partner pantry, and were a hit with partners and clients alike.
“It’s an innovative way to think about food banking, and it’s not something a lot of food banks are doing,” said Lauren Bednarski. She’s confident that by leveraging Food Bank resources through partner agencies, they will see more client success stories.
“[The clients] have been very grateful for the support. I have one client who came to my office in tears after her first visit to the food pantry. She works full-time, often overtime as well, attends school with us part-time, and struggles to make ends meet. Receiving this assistance took one thing off of her list of things to stress about and the relief brought her to tears,” recounts Michele Mulryan, Social Services Coordinator with the Literacy Coalition of Central Texas.
Michele says the assistance their clients receive through this program has been a huge help both by helping students put food on the table for their families, and by improving their focus in class because they aren’t coming to class hungry. She hopes programs like this can expand and reach more members of the community so they can become connected to resources that assist them in becoming self-sufficient.
“The Capital Area Food Bank recognizes that families need a variety of supportive services to ensure they can achieve long term financial stability. Programs like the Scholarship Pantry Pilot Program work to link the provision of nutritious food with quality education and training, resulting in more stability for the families that we serve,” says Emily De Maria, Senior Director of Programs.
The pilot program is currently being evaluated, but the Food Bank is committed to continuing to offer programs like this one in an effort to help introduce our services to new clients, and bring additional opportunities to our existing clients.
“We’re no longer just an organization that passes out food and that’s all we do. We’re really addressing all of the needs of our clients. Through our work with the community we’re seeing these economic barriers holding our clients back from self sufficiency and family stability. Through this program we’re able to address some of those issues,” says Kara Prior, Agency Relations Capacity Specialist with the Capital Area Food Bank of Texas.
Message from the president & ceo
2015 was an exciting year at the Food Bank. Thanks to your support, we broke ground on our new distribution facility, then watched the walls go up and the roof come on. Because of your generous donations, we distributed more food than ever before, putting almost 34 million pounds of food out into the Central Texas community. And we grew our programs and operations, from pilot programs that put clients in touch with the education resources they need, to Agency Retail Pick-Up that allowed us to rescue an additional 8 million pounds of food that otherwise would have ended up in a land fill.
2015 was an exciting year, but 2016 will bring even bigger changes. We are eager to move into our new facility that has double the capacity of our current building so we can reach all of the 477,000 hungry Central Texans in our service territory. As part of the move, we are thrilled to announce our name change to Central Texas Food Bank. We are working hard to serve every corner of Central Texas, a service territory that spans 21 counties, and our name is just one change we are making as we grow and expand our programs.
As we grow, we are striving to help clients not just put food on the table, but become self-sufficient. Our hope is that clients like Dustin, who is featured in this issue, get the food they need to get through the day, and the opportunities they need to set them up for success in the future. By partnering with other non-profit organizations and health care providers in our area, we are making a bigger impact than ever on our community. We can’t wait to share our efforts with you this year.
Spring is the time for growth and renewal, and here at the Food Bank we are in the midst of both. We hope you are as excited about our journey as we are, after all, none of it would be possible without you.
President & CEO
Capital Area Food Bank