There's a new grocery store on the West Side, but after its customers have walked the aisles and selected their groceries, they don't have to pay.
The St. Stephens CARE Center is a food pantry, but it’s unlike most other food pantries in San Antonio or anywhere else. It looks like a regular grocery store, with neat aisles and well-stocked shelves. Instead of going to the pantry and receiving a bag of specific staple items, people who go there can take a cart and pick out what they need.
"So at this center they'll be able to go up and down the aisle and shop,” Catholic Charities of San Antonio‘s Christina Higgs said, adding that there is dignity in choice.
“Clients can decide, ‘Do I want this kind of tuna or this kind of tuna. Do I want vegetable pasta or regular pasta,’” Higgs noted, “All these things that you and I take for granted all the time because we go to HEB after work, throw a bunch of things in a cart and check out, not necessarily stopping and worrying about, ‘Is my bank account going to handle this?’”
A section of the store looks more like a department store, with shoes and clothes and other items of all sizes. There is also a baby corner with supplies from the Texas Diaper Bank. All of the items are the result of donations.
Higgs says the store’s clients will check in with a Catholic Charities case worker who will see if there's anything else they can do to help the families achieve financial stability.
Higgs said the caseworkers will ask people who come in to shop a few questions and offer a variety of opportunities for clients.
"’Is there a class you want to take?’” is among those questions, Higgs said. “How else do we get to where we don't have to see (them) again, if that's their wish and that's what we want, too. We want to empower them. We want to feed them and get them to where they're feeding themselves.”
The Center will offer GED classes, English as a second language classes, even cooking classes.
Catholic Charities of San Antonio CEO J. Antonio Fernandez says there's a reason the St. Stephens CARE Center is located on the West Side of San Antonio.
"Twenty-five percent of the children living over here are food insecure,” Fernandez said. “They don't know where their food is coming from at the end of the day. The average income for a family of four here is $25,000."
Fernandez says being within walking distance for many of these families makes a difference.
“So this was an area that we thought would be best for us to focus our energy, in the 78207 area code, and that’s what we’re doing here.”
Fernandez stressed, however, that anyone in need, from anywhere, is welcome to shop at the St. Stephen’s CARE Center.