‘They’re counting on us’: San Antonio Food Bank CEO explains why helping families is a calling for him

Eric Cooper’s passion for helping people comes from a personal struggle

SAN ANTONIO – The San Antonio Food Bank is a staple of our community and for more than 40 years the organization has worked to help local families who need it most.

During the COVID-19 pandemic the necessity for the food banks has become more apparent as we have seen the lines of cars reaching block and blocks. Tens of thousands of families have lined up early in the morning for their mass distributions. Thousands and thousands of pounds of food has been handed out.

“Inside each one of those cars is an individual, a family. And they have a story. And it’s a story of hardship. It’s a story of struggle. It’s a story of need. And they’re counting on us to be able to nurse their family,” Food Bank CEO and President Eric Cooper said.

Eric Cooper has been with the food bank for years. In 2001, he actually became the youngest executive director in the history of the organization.

This past year when the pandemic hit the food bank and their resources were spread thin. The need was a surprise, even for Eric.

“I’d meet these families that were so desperate, so anxious, we just needed to do more. And I don’t know that we’re fully in a better place today, but I think I’ve been able to figure out, you know, the cadence and the rhythms,” Cooper said.

The food bank at one point was serving up to 120,000 people on a given day.

“It’s what I signed up for. But I think knowing that I live in this great city, that hears the call, responds to the need while we see the need,” Cooper said.

Helping families is a calling for Eric, and it all stems from his own family who fell on hard times.

“They were really worried about putting food on the table and paying the electric bill. Time passed. I became estranged from my dad, but ultimately it put me on a journey to find him,” Cooper said.

After extensive research, and on a whim, Eric got on a flight.

“It led me to Oregon. And just outside of Portland, I found him homeless, and it was really a miracle that I even was able to locate him,” Cooper said.

Through a series of asking apartment buildings, former employers, and friends it led Eric to a man living in abandoned camper trailer that was behind a transmission shop.

“It shocked me at first. I mean, it was like, that’s my dad. And i just remember getting out of the car and yelling, dad. And he just came running,” Cooper said.

It was a turning point to say the least.

“When I did, it changed me,” Cooper said.

Eric and his family put Eric’s father on a road to recovery and got him diagnosed as being bipolar, and got him medication and back in his life.

“He passed a few years ago, but there’s just no regrets. He was he was in our lives and connected,” Cooper said.

His father motivated him to step up and help out.

“He, you know, walked this warehouse with me when it was being built. He’s come to see it in full-swing and he knows. You know, he’s the reason why I do this work and hopefully make him proud,” Cooper said.

Cooper added that knowing someone could be in need like his dad and be struggling to get a meal makes him want to help that person.

“I really do love our city and I love our residents. And I want a city where everyone thrives. And I find pain in the reality of the inequities that we struggle with,” Cooper said.

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