Having access to nutritious food is a basic need, yet too many in the Bastrop community lack consistent access to healthy, affordable food for themselves and their families.

According to the most recent Community Health Needs Assessment for Bastrop County, some residents report experiencing a 20-mile commute to the closest grocery store, while others, due to soaring housing costs and urban sprawl from neighboring Austin and Travis County, spend an average of 23% of their monthly income on housing. Moreover, 11.1% of the residents spend 50% of their income on housing, leaving necessities like healthy food cost prohibitive.

Since 1987, the Bastrop County Emergency Food Pantry has been a vital community asset addressing the concerns and issues of food scarcity for residents of the county. The center plays a unique role in addressing the basic needs of the county's most vulnerable residents from food insecurity to social isolation in older adults. It responds immediately to individuals and families in a food crisis with a “no-wait, no red-tape” attitude.

Tresha Silva, executive director of Bastrop County Emergency Food Pantry said the pantry provides emergency food service as well as education and support to Bastrop County residents going through periods of transition. Further, as the primary food pantry in Bastrop, they play a unique role in addressing the basic needs of the county’s most vulnerable residents and have visionary leadership that is constantly imagining new ways of thinking, acting, and partnering to move the country towards a healthier and more vibrant community. During COVID-19, the pantry managed and led a county-wide food distribution program.

“The Bastrop County Emergency Food Pantry is a cornerstone of the community and a vital part of the food support infrastructure in the County,” said Tonda Owens, board president for Bastrop County Emergency Food Pantry. “They are often the first boots on the ground during natural disasters, but also there in the quiet individual moments of a crisis their neighbors are experiencing. It is vital to the health and wellness of the community that they have what they need to continue to serve the people of Bastrop County for years to come.”

St. David’s Foundation has been proud to partner with the food pantry since 2013 and recognizes this key community resource hub as a pathway to health equity in ensuring all residents can have access to healthy and nutritious food no matter their zip code during periods of vulnerability.

The center provides a number of services, including:Experiencing food insecurity means individuals don’t have enough food or cannot obtain nutritious food, Silva said. When residents are battling issues like food insecurity, it can be difficult to focus at work, at school or at home.

“We really pride ourselves on the fact that we focus on nutrition,” Silva said. “We offer a lot of fresh [food] and essentials, like we have dairy, and a variety of proteins. We also have cooking tools and recipes that we can share with the community. So that real holistic approach to our work really impacts the family with nutrition support.”

By providing emergency food support, the pantry allows its families to take one of their worries off their plates. The center also has partnerships and programs in place like the Good Neighbors fund, which can help individuals pay a utility bill in times of need.

The Good Neighbors fund is a reserve the city of Bastrop created, and the pantry acts as the go-between for the city and individuals in need. Bastrop residents can contribute to the fund by electing to donate an extra amount on their utility bills to go to the Good Neighbors fund. Then, the center screens candidates and acts as the steward for the fund.

Silva said the senior population is often at high risk for experiencing food insecurity, and the pantry provides its Brown Bag program for seniors through a partnership with St. David’s Foundation. Aimed at low-income seniors, the pantry regularly provides a monthly bag of nutritious groceries as well as hygiene supplies. The program includes transportation, and the pantry runs bus routes in Smithville on Mondays, Bastrop on Wednesdays and Elgin on Fridays.

“Our goal with our senior program is to really work to make sure seniors can remain in their homes as independently as possible for as long as they want to,” Silva said. “[The program] also has opportunities in there for them to come in and socialize with other seniors so that they're not isolated in their homes.”

The food pantry has been supporting Bastrop County residents since 1987. Over the past 37 years, the pantry has seen a 39% increase in demand for its services. The pantry exists in five buildings, four of which are very old, Silva said.

“That causes our work to be very discombobulated and very broken up,” Silva said. “There's a great need for us to have a facility to help us in a manner that allows us to do what we do and to do it well.”

To help support its efforts, the pantry is running a capital campaign: the Good Neighbor campaign. The funds from the campaign will go toward building a new facility for the pantry, allowing the organization to consolidate its services on the existing property. The building will be just under eight thousand square feet and will include a lobby for intake services, a classroom for education outreach and a grocery store.

The grocery store model will allow families to take a cart and shop for their groceries with a pantry volunteer, giving them agency and independence. Moreover, collaboration with community partners is a central goal of the food pantry. The new space will allow for partnerships to support health and well-being and provide connection and opportunities with a ‘one-stop-shop’ facility to allow residents a central location for social services in addition to fresh food and supplies.

“It's very hard to ask for food,” Silva said. “To create an environment that says, ‘We understand how hard this is, and we're thinking about you and doing this process in a manner that is very dignified,’ makes my heart bubble over [with] joy, because I think it's going to mean so much to the folks that we serve when they come in.”

The Good Neighbors campaign has already raised 80% of its goal of nearly seven million dollars, with nearly a million contributed from the American Rescue Plan Act. Now in the home stretch, the pantry is focused on raising the last million dollars needed for a new facility. Silva said the new facility will mean so much to the community and will allow the pantry to better serve Bastrop County residents.

“This is about neighbors helping neighbors; that’s why we named it the Good Neighbors Campaign,” Silva said. “Hunger is a very hard issue to have, and hunger in a rural community is even harder. We continue to see ourselves as an organization that can take everybody's resources and make them go a little bit farther than if we're just focused on ourselves.”

Learn more about the Good Neighbors campaign and donate today. For more information about the Bastrop County Emergency Food Pantry, visit the website.

The above story was produced by Senior Multi Platform Journalist Summer El-Shahawy with Community Impact's Storytelling team with information solely provided by the local business as part of their "sponsored content" purchase through our advertising team.