SAN ANTONIO – A Balcones Heights food distribution effort that was shut down by the police chief Tuesday marked a turning point for local nonprofits whose mission it is to feed the hungry.
The nonprofits said just when they have had to step up fast to meet needs during the coronavirus crisis, their primary source of food, the San Antonio Food Bank, is changing its policy.
Starting Saturday, the food bank will no longer participate in individual agency onsite mobile or food fair distributions. Instead of having multiple sites, the food bank intends to provide needed food in the community through the creation of county mega sites.
While no one at the San Antonio Food Bank mentioned Monday’s food distribution shutdown as part of the reason for the changes, witnesses say the crowd at the Wonderland of the Americas Mall was huge. They said thousands of people were waiting in line, and there was little policing of social distancing. One source said people were even picking through piles of food products to choose what they wanted.
By Monday night, all San Antonio Food Bank partner agencies received an email stating its mobile food distribution efforts would no longer have its familiar truck full of food at their individual distributions. The email noted the change was due to “heightened product and safety procedures”.
It’s a blow with a ripple effect reaching deep into impoverished San Antonio communities, according to Eagles Flight Advocacy & Outreach President Pamela Espurvoa-Allen.
“We do have a lot of food distributions this week, but after this week, we have to shut everything down," she said.
The changes came after Espurvoa-Allen's organization gave away bags of food to more than 2,000 Edgewood Independent School District neighbors in one day last week.
The Edgewood district is one of the poorest in Bexar County. The police chief for Edgewood ISD said the district's resource center has only been able to stay open through donations secured by Eagles Flight.
Chief Jesse Quiroga said he's concerned the new changes will mean Espurvoa-Allen’s ability to serve the need through drive-up food distributions will result in less participation by hungry children and their families.
“Some of our people don’t drive, and they don’t have the ability to go to a larger food distribution. If (Espurvoa-Allen is) worried, then I'm worried," Quiroga said.
Espurvoa-Allen's efforts and those of other partner agencies say while their pantries can stay open under the new plan, they'll no longer be reaching as deep as they have into their communities without drive-up food giveaways.
“We usually serve about 200 people a day through our food pantries. We are going to be so limited as to what we can do and who we can reach,” Espurvoa-Allen said.
The San Antonio Food Bank is asking nonprofit partner agencies to preregister their clients for the county mega sites by filling out a form on the food bank website.
Additionally, the Food Bank has already announced a few lunch and neighborhood food giveaways they have on the calendar.
COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the new virus, stands for coronavirus disease 2019. The disease first appeared in late 2019 in Wuhan, China, but spread around the world in early 2020, causing the World Health Organization to declare a pandemic in March.
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