The first sign of trouble at the Hays County Food Bank surfaced last week when a volunteer asked Mallory Best what to do if she was filling a bag of donated goods and couldn’t find any of a certain item.
“We were like, ‘Uh, what are you talking about?’ So I go outside (to the warehouse), and I’m like, ‘Oh, my gosh, there’s no food there,’ ” said Best, the food bank’s communications coordinator, who was confronted by nearly empty shelves last week. “That was heartbreaking.”
After one of the most severe food shortages the organization has seen in at least five years, the food bank in San Marcos has seen an outpouring of donations in the past week — about 14,000 pounds of food. That’s nearly double the 8,300 pounds the organization usually receives in one month, Best said.
“I could literally cry just because the community support has just been completely overwhelming,” she said. “It’s just been really amazing to see that at a time when our nation is kind of hurting a little bit and people are divided, people can really come together to give back.”
In addition to donations that people dropped off in person, many donors bought food from the bank’s Amazon Wish List and had it shipped directly. On one day last week, Best said, the public donated 2,000 pounds of food.
The summer months are usually high-demand periods for food banks, Best said, because students are out of school and many no longer receive free or reduced-price meals. At the same time, donations tend to dip as people go on vacation, and giving isn’t at the forefront of many people’s minds, as it is during the holiday season.
Central Texas Food Bank spokesman Paul Gaither said his organization similarly sees dips in donations, though not nearly to the dire extent that Hays County experienced. Gaither said about six years ago, aware of the downward trend in summer donations, his organization increased its spending on advertising during that time to remind people to donate.
Both Gaither and Best encouraged the public to continue donating throughout the summer, as even the recent influx of donated goods to Hays County will dwindle quickly.
The Hays County Food Bank’s supplies were so low at the end of June, as first reported by KXAN, that the organization had to start rationing the food it gives to its two dozen partner organizations, including Word Of Life Christian Faith Center in Buda and the Hays-Caldwell Women’s Center in San Marcos.
“I’m not working right now, so this is a big help,” San Marcos resident Manuel Ramirez, 67, said Monday as he carried a bag of bread and other perishable goods to his truck from a Hays County Food Bank distribution site at Dunbar Recreation Center.
Ramirez is a cafeteria worker who’s out of work during the summer when school is out; his job won’t start back up until August, he said, and he’s finding it difficult to keep up with rent payments. His wife is in beauty school with hopes of opening a salon one day, and they have three young adult children who still depend on them.
Jacob Robinson, 20, a volunteer at the Hays County Food Bank, said with no food to sort or bag, he ran out of work to do within half a day during the shortage.
“Now the days go by faster,” Robinson said. “There’s always donations coming in. … It feels good to be doing my little part in helping out.”
On Monday, Ramirez was already brainstorming what meal he would cook for his family using the donated groceries: rice, ground meat and potatoes.
“With all my heart, I appreciate the help,” Ramirez said.
“May God bless them,” he said of food bank donors. “Without the help of other people, a person can’t move forward.”
HOW TO HELP
For Hays County residents: Bring nonperishable foods to the Hays County Food Bank, 220 Herndon St. in San Marcos, between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Monetary donations can be dropped off or mailed to the food bank or made online at www.haysfoodbank.org/donate. To volunteer, see www.haysfoodbank.org/get_involved.
For Travis County residents: Drop off food donations at Central Texas Food Bank, 6500 Metropolis Drive, between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. For more information, see www.centraltexasfoodbank.org/get-involved.