“I’ve been at the food bank for 12 years, and I’ve never seen the shelves so depleted,” said Monica Borrego, director of development for the food bank. “We have a good amount of perishable food coming through, but we have to move that quickly, and it’s a quick turnaround. What we’re lacking right now is stuff in cans and dry goods that are a little bit more shelf-stable.”
According to a 2016 study by Feeding America, an estimated 15,050 people in Comal County were food-insecure in 2016, meaning they do not always know where their next meal will come from. That number is slightly higher in Guadalupe County, accounting for around 16,890 individuals.
Alice Jewell, CEO of the McKenna Foundation, which provides grants to nonprofits that serve New Braunfels residents, said the hunger gap in New Braunfels became more apparent in 2009-10.
“The population is growing, and what comes with that growth comes some really good things and some really challenging things, so we have to make sure our food distribution continues to grow in parallel to the population of people who are food-insecure,” Jewell said.
Key Hunger Factors
While the area’s rapid population increase plays a role in increased need, Borrego said there are additional factors contributing to the shortage.
Since the New Braunfels Food Bank opened its new facility at 1620 S. Seguin Ave. just over a year ago, it has seen a client increase of about 40 percent.
“Visibility has made people more aware, and I think there was a slight increase in need,” she said.
For the past three years Borrego said she has also seen an increasing trend in which the food bank’s most vulnerable demographic groups are coming together under one roof.
“One of the things we’re seeing a lot is we are seeing seniors having to start taking care of their grandchildren,” she said. “The strategy with [children and seniors] is we will be there to serve them as long as they need it.”
For others Borrego said the goal is to help get them back to work or connect them to higher-paying jobs through partnerships with other nonprofits.
The lingering effects from Hurricane Harvey are another reason Borrego feels food inventory is low.
“I think that because we had a hurricane last year and the giving increased really, really high,” she said. “Then we had the holidays and our giving was pretty high through that time, so I think it’s maybe come off of top of mind because it was so high last year.”
In addition food pantries are still feeling the effects of a higher need during summer months when students were out of school as they head into the holiday season.
“At the end of the summer our school families have needed to feed these kids three meals a day instead of one meal a day throughout the whole summer,” said Maureen Schein, program director for the Community Resource and Recreation Center in Canyon Lake. The CRRC is a nonprofit that operates a food pantry and other social services serving a large portion of Comal County, including the 78132 ZIP code in New Braunfels.
Like the New Braunfels Food Bank, the CRRC is one of many organizations that receives resources from the San Antonio Food Bank.
“When they’re low, we’re low,” she said.
According to Schein, the CRRC did not see a significant increase in need from January to July.
“But when August hit, all of the sudden we’re feeding all these extra mouths,” she said. “We used to have between 25 to 30 new clients every month, and now we’re seeing between 50 and 60 new clients every month.”
One of the ways the CRRC is responding to increasing demand is by planning for an 11,000-square-foot facility that will house a client choice food pantry along with other social and health services. The client choice model allows people to access the food pantry and shop for the items they want.
However, Schein said that more space does not equal more resources, and projections say the need for resources could double between 2018-20.
Borrego said the New Braunfels Food Bank is always in need of food, money and voices. For those who want to help combat local hunger, she recommends volunteering, making a food or monetary donation to the food bank, or hosting a food drive.
“If a donation is made here and it is intended for this community, it stays in this community. Every dollar that is donated can actually provide seven meals,” Borrego said.