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Jessie Fisher and her nonprofit food pantry, the Randolph Area Christian Assistance Program (RACAP) aim to provide a week’s worth of healthy food and toiletries to families in need in Schertz, Texas (29.3% Latino).
But when food demand grew faster than the supply, Fischer and RACAP had to think quickly.
They set up partnerships to gather leftover food from restaurants and grocers, pick up unwanted fruit from residents’ yards, and receive meat donations from hunters. They also launched food drives that yielded thousands of pounds of healthy food for Latino and other families during high-demand summer times.
Did it work?
Food Insecurity in Schertz
Schertz, Texas (29.3% Latino population) is a fast-rising, increasingly Latino (18.1% in 2000 and 26.6% in 2014) community just north of San Antonio (63.2% Latino).
Schertz is more affluent than San Antonio, with a higher median household income ($72,463 vs. $46,317) and fewer people living in poverty (7.3% vs. 20.1%).
However, resident Jessie Fisher knew parts of her community struggle with food insecurity, which means they don’t have access to or money for healthy, nutritious food.
Texas is one of eight states to have higher rates of food insecurity than the nation overall. In Bexar County, where most Schertz residents live, one of five people is eligible to receive federal food stamp assistance, yet only about half actually participate in the program.
“People don’t generally think of an area like ours (Schertz) as having to deal with issues like poverty and hunger, but it exists,” Fisher said.
Filling this food gap was a reason the Randolph Area Christian Assistance Program (RACAP) formed in 1983.
More than 20 religious and civic organizations banded together to pool their resources—discretionary monies, parishioner resources, and organizational strength—with a goal of improving the community.
“The conversation started with a group of pastors at some of the churches in the area,” said Fischer, who directs the RACAP program. “It was all organic. This group usually would meet to discuss church matters in the area and the topic of doing more for the community came up.
“After several discussions, they came to the realization that, to help as many people in the community as possible, that was going to take more effort than anyone of these churches and groups could do.”
Food Pantry Starts to Fill the Food Gap
Upon formation, the RACAP group discussed and researched community needs.
Food insecurity was a constant theme. Many families fell through cracks of aid that could be provided, Fischer said.
RACAP started as an emergency, nonprofit food pantry. RACAP provides a week’s worth of healthy food, toiletries, etc., for qualifying families, using money and food donated by the community.
“Our main focus is providing emergency groceries for people,” Fisher said. “We also provide limited amounts of financial assistance, prescription medicine, and utility assistance to in-need residents of nine zip codes.”
Families can apply for food assistance once in a 12-month period. Working with local and state agencies, Fisher assesses the financial needs of families applying for aid.
“The way we determine who is eligible for our services is the government-determined poverty guidelines,” said Fisher. “However, if circumstances warrant it, we can make an exception. These are determined case by case.”
In its first full year of operation in 1984, RACAP assisted about 350 families (1,200 people). However, as Schertz grew in size, so did people’s hunger.
“There was a time when the need was becoming far greater than what we had in terms of resources,” Fisher said. “We had to do more.”
Pantry Makes Unique Changes to Meet Growing Food Demands
RACAP was especially strained by demand during the summer months when many students in low-income homes did not have access to free school breakfasts or lunches.
“When I came on board, I knew one of the main things we needed to do was shore up our supply of food, especially during the summer,” Fisher said. “It came to me that more partnerships in our community were going to be needed.”
It was at this point that Fisher went to work.
For months, she reached out into the community, activating people around the increasing need for access to healthy food, and creating new partnerships.
Fisher led several key changes at RACAP:
- They arranged for local restaurants to donate leftover food to the pantry.
- They arranged for local grocery stores to donate leftover food to the pantry.
- They began, though intermediaries, receiving unwanted fresh fruits from local property owners.
- They worked with hunters to secure donated meats to store in their deep freezers
All of these moves aimed to ensure RACAP could sufficiently grow to meet the demands of the community for access to healthy food. Fisher and RACAP didn’t stop there.
Food Drive Help Supplement Summer Meals for Kids
Fisher now has recruited a strong network of volunteers who help collect, sort, and store all the food donations.
With the increased capacity to serve the community in place, Fisher and RACAP continued to explore how to specifically meet demand for healthy meals for children during the summers and holidays.
They reached out to a local gravel company, Hanson Aggregates–Servtex Quarry.
“We found out that RACAP doesn’t really do any of their own food ‘driving,’” said Jake Sherer, Quarry Manager at Hanson Aggregates-Servtex Quarry.
So the company decided to conduct an internal holiday food drive to donate to RACAP. After a successful drive, they expanded to conducting a summer food drive.
“In 2015, 3,400 pounds of food was collected … and that exceeded our wildest expectations,” Sherer said. “It was even bigger in 2016.”
Fisher and her volunteers worked with the group from Hanson to make partnerships with cities in the smaller cities in the area and the local school district. With all of these partnerships in place, the food drives ensured that over 1,000 children in the area would be provided food for the summer months.
The now 26-member coalition of organizations has fully committed to RACAP’s future and growth, Fisher said.
“Our work is something that is truly important to this community,” Fisher said. “I know I’m the only full-time employee here, but it really takes all of us. When you have people in need, it’s the duty of everyone to help. We use a scripture from the Bible as one of our mottos, John 21:17. It says ‘Jesus said, ‘Feed my sheep.’ That’s our mission and that is what we will continue to do.”
What Can You Do?
Start a School Food Pantry!
About 1 in 6 children are food insecure. They don’t know where their next meal is coming from.
The new Salud America! “School Food Pantry Action Pack” is a free guide to help school personnel talk to decision-makers, work through logistics, and start a School Food Pantry to help hungry students and reduce local food insecurity.
A School Food Pantry accepts, stores, and redistributes donated and leftover food to students.
The Action Pack was created by Dr. Amelie G. Ramirez, director of Salud America! at UT Health San Antonio. Dr. Ramirez had input from Jenny Arredondo, nutrition director at San Antonio ISD, who started school food pantries on 10 campuses by 2018, based on a Texas law change led by Diego Bernal.
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By The Numbers
This success story was produced by Salud America! with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
The stories are intended for educational and informative purposes. References to specific policymakers, individuals, schools, policies, or companies have been included solely to advance these purposes and do not constitute an endorsement, sponsorship, or recommendation. Stories are based on and told by real community members and are the opinions and views of the individuals whose stories are told. Organization and activities described were not supported by Salud America! or the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and do not necessarily represent the views of Salud America! or the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.