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2,000 Families Line Up For San Antonio Food Bank Distribution At Alamodome

Joey Palacios
Texas Public Radio
Oliva Sanchez loads groceries into a car at the Alamodome. More than 700 cars had lined up to receive food on Friday.

San Antonians in need are continuing to receive support from the San Antonio Food Bank.

Hundreds of cars have lined up for mega distributions at sites with massive parking lots to handle the thousands of needy families. The Alamodome was the latest site.

On Friday, about 700 cars lined up to receive a week’s worth of groceries. It was a coordinated operation with multiple stations. After waiting in a large staging area, they pulled up to a row of tents. Each tent was lined with volunteers and various food items.

In a normal week, the San Antonio Food Bank would provide support to about 60,000 people. Since the pandemic began, that has doubled to nearly 120,000 people.

Nicole Rivera and Rebecca Silva are friends who carpooled to the Alamodome. Rivera recently lost her job, and her husband’s hours were cut, so she felt blessed after getting groceries for her family.

“It was quick, we didn’t have to wait very long, so I’m happy,” Rivera said.

Glancing at her daughter in the back seat, Rivera said she was ready to get back to normal.

“[I’m] ready to get this city back going – my daughter back in school. [I’m] overwhelmed with having to become a homeschool parent. I’m not used to that,” she said, and then she joked, “I’m ready to pass her from the first to the 12th grade already. If it was up to me, she’d graduate. I’m done.”

Silva found herself in a situation where she had to depend on her friends. She said she was no longer able to work as a waitress, and she was actively looking for a new job.

“I’m just actually waiting for one employer here in San Antonio at a nursing home,” she explained, “actually to see if the application went through. Still waiting on my stimulus check. Still waiting on unemployment to see if I’m accepted.”

Credit Joey Palacios | Texas Public Radio
Rebecca Silva (middle) and Nicole Rivera (right) were two of the hundreds of people in line to receive food at the Alamodome

At the moment, funds were low for Silva, and this trip to the food bank’s distribution site was essential.

“I’m overdrawn in my bank account,” she said, “and I have $30 or $20 in my pocket, so whatever food that I have here that’s going to help me not have to go to the grocery store to buy food to survive because I’m by myself.”

Silva and Rivera were two of about 2,000 households pre-registered to get food at this site.

There was a procedure in place. Cars snaked around the parking lot and drove through the multiple stations to receive items like bread, produce, potatoes, chicken, soup, and beans. After checking in with volunteers, each car received a placard.

Lucy Cantu, a volunteer at the fresh produce distribution station, explained the system:

“If a car has a white sheet of paper, it’s for one family. If a car has a sheet of orange or pink, it’s two families that they’re picking up food for, and if it’s a blue card, it’s for three families.”

The food distributed on Friday is estimated to be enough for about 8,000 people. This was one of many sites that the food bank is setting up amid the pandemic.

“It takes a lot of food to meet this need, and food banks across the country are seeing the same types of lines,” said San Antonio Food Bank CEO Eric Cooper. “That demand across our nation has made it difficult to get the food.”

Cooper said there has been tremendous support from the community but the supply is not meeting the need.

“I’m struggling to keep up with donations of food and funds to be able to meet this unprecedented demand,” he said.

The food bank received about $5.7 million in food and monetary donations last week, a record number, Cooper said. But the weekly requirements are about $6 million in both food and funding.

“We heard this week that FEMA and the state of Texas will be sending over 100 semi-truck loads of food to us but we’re distributing about 70 truckloads of food per week,” he said. "It’s going to be a huge help. It’s a huge blessing. But we’re going to need more food if no one is going hungry in San Antonio.”

Still, Cooper said this was not the ideal way for people to collect their basic necessities.

“I believe that people should get food from grocery stores, restaurants, not parking lots,” he said.

Credit Joey Palacios | Texas Public Radio
Lucy Cantu places bags of fresh produce into the trunk of a car.

Cooper said the federal government should expand safety net programs like food stamps during the pandemic.

“We’re going to need help from the federal government if we’re going to weather this crisis of COVID-19. More needs to be done today with the supplemental nutrition assistance program to get families on public benefits so that they’ll be able to get their groceries in the varieties and amounts they need to nourish themselves and their families.”

It’s this help that people like Rivera and Silva are depending on. With a loss of income, money must be rationed for necessities. Food distributions like this help ease some of their worry.

In their rearview mirror, some of the hundreds of volunteers could be seen at their tents. Silva – who said she has no family – felt grateful.

“It makes me feel hopeful, very hopeful, that people care, that humans are still there for each other … they’re not my family but they’re my family.”

Joey Palacios can be reached at Joey@TPR.org and on Twitter at @Joeycules.

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Joey Palacios can be reached atJoey@TPR.org and on Twitter at @Joeycules