SAN ANTOBIO – As several federal assistance programs aimed at helping people affected by the economic slowdown come to an end this week, there is a fear at the San Antonio Food Bank that the need for assistance could grow.
Eric Cooper, president and CEO of the San Antonio Food Bank, said the number of people helped each week by the Food Bank doubled from 60,000 to 120,000 at the start of the economic shutdown in March.
With programs like the Paycheck Protection Program, unemployment insurance and a moratorium on evictions ending this week, Cooper is worried the demand for help may spike.
“We’re honestly anxious this week,” Cooper said. “And without some of that public intervention, I worry that we could possibly move from the (120,000) to a higher level of demand, which could overwhelm us.”
Cooper said some programs are helping, like the Farmers-to-Families Food Box, which provides fresh produce, dairy and protein to families. After some issues during the first phase, he said the second phase had seen improvements, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced the third round of purchases for the program on Monday. However, the program could soon run out of money.
“This has been an expensive program for USDA to run,” Cooper said. “They thought it would go through the end of the year, but it does appear that the last little bit of money will be awarded for September. So it’s not much left, but it’s sure been a big boost to our inventory to have access to some of that.”
Cooper said programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) have helped lessen the demand at the food bank, but the demand is still there.
On Monday, the San Antonio Food Bank met with several of its large financial supporters to go over its current inventory and demand. Cooper said they discussed what would happen in a worst-case scenario if demand for help spikes.
“We will absolutely have to cry for help. We talked about this ‘benefit cliff’ that potentially lots of families could be falling off of at the end of the week and the need for us all to raise our voice to encourage Congress to have some form of intervention,” Cooper said. “Now, without that intervention, if the need does spike, you’re going to hear an appeal. I mean, we will rise to the occasion. We will meet the need. How well-positioned we will be in our inventory will be the question.”
Another area where the food bank needs help is with volunteers. Cooper said the spike in COVID-19 cases, the Texas heat and the fatigue being felt by volunteers who have been giving their time since March has put the need in high demand.
“It’s been a pretty hot summer, so these distribution sites, we’re doing them earlier in the day when we can and just trying to move quickly to get the food distributed and volunteers out of there. There have been some amazing, heroic volunteers who have really been the superheroes of this crisis and enabled us to get food to families all summer long and are connected to that Farm-to-Families Food Box program,” Cooper said. “Without those volunteers serving on the front lines, those food boxes don’t get distributed. It’s the support of that work that everybody’s chipped in, and the USDA has been the biggest contributor. It’s just been a privilege to make sure that no one goes hungry throughout South Texas.”
“It’s uncertain what our future will be,” Cooper continued. “I can’t let you know. I don’t know. But I know that we will be working as diligently as we can to make sure that we have the inventory to feed our communities.”
For more information on how you can volunteer, visit the San Antonio Food Bank website to register.