When Tiesa Hollaway joined Hill Country Community Ministries in October 2015, the group was facing a problem with its food pantry. While the organization offered pickups at its Leander office, it became evident that accessibility was an issue for potential clients owing to a lack of transportation.

“We service a very large area, primarily western Williamson County and northwest Travis County,” said Hollaway, HCCM’s executive director. “We launched this program because we wanted to get to those areas that couldn’t get to us, those high-need and underserved areas.”

So, in 2016, HCCM launched Fresh Food for All, a program that started with four distribution sites but has grown to eight pick-up and four drop-site locations across Williamson and Travis counties, offering free produce and fresh food items instead of the usual boxed and canned food pantry items.

The group typically partners with a location in a part of the area it feels would benefit from the service, such as its first drop-site location, the Travis County Community Center in Jonestown, or ACC San Gabriel in Leander—which has two sites—and ACC Cypress Creek in Cedar Park, which also has two sites.

In total, HCCM serves 78 different zip codes in central Texas and also has pickup sites in Austin, Florence and Granger for a total of eight, though Hollaway and her team—including ReThink Hunger Program Manager Aaron Renaud, who oversees Fresh Food For All—are already thinking about No. 9.

“We’d like to have another Austin location, we’d like to have a Liberty Hill, but we’re also partnering with Operation Liberty Hill,” Hollaway said. ”We’ve even talked about going to Bertram and those outer lying areas.”

Initially, Fresh Food for All functioned like a pop-up farmers market for its clients. The HCCM trucks would arrive at a given location and the on-site volunteers—the final passing of food to the customer typically happens with volunteers organized on-site—would build out a produce market, allowing its guests to select and bag what they would be taking home.

With the pandemic, however, the group had to pivot to a less DIY method and began pre-bagging its produce and doling it out curbside according to need and family size. While this created the necessary lack of contact, it also left families with less control over what they were able to take home.

The lack of selection also means that HCCM must bag all of that food before it can offer it to the client, though the group turns to its site partners to fill that workforce void. For instance, at ACC San Gabriel this month was ACC Highland student Nay Chi, who learned about the opportunity to volunteer from the school’s Student Accessibility Services office.

“I love to volunteer, any kind,” Chi said. “The SAS emailed me [about] volunteering and I’ve come here and ACC Cypress Creek.”

HCCM also receives outside help from other groups.

“We have a couple partners that we work with such as the Junior League of Austin and they provide regular volunteers,” Renaud said. “But the sites usually provide their own volunteers and have a consistent lead [contact].”

Currently, Fresh Food for All sources the bulk of its produce from the Central Texas Food Bank, the large, Austin-based clearinghouse that services many local charities. When the food bank doesn’t quite fill its needs, HCCM then turns to Mr. Greens, a produce wholesaler with offices in Austin and San Antonio—as well as four in Florida—and also has a relationship with H-E-B.

“We tell people that if they want to support this program, monetary donations help us do that,” Hollaway said. “That’s what allows us to purchase the food and also the trucks. We have two trucks and a refrigerated van ... and they go down and need repairs.”

Between all 12 sites, Renaud said the program, on an average monthly basis, distributes nearly 13,000 pounds of food and feeds over 2,200 people. They also, through a partnership with Austin Animal Center, have given out 2,000 pounds of dog food in October and November combined.

“It’s one of the most rewarding programs I’ve been in,” Renaud said. “There’s nothing quite like putting food on someone’s plate.”

Hill Country Community Ministries

1005 Lacy Drive, Leander

[email protected]