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Meals on Wheels San Antonio opens new, 44,000-square-foot headquarters

Meals on Wheels San Antonio held a ribbon-cutting for its new, $23 million state-of-the-art headquarters last Friday. The nonprofit’s CEO said the new space would mean thousands of more people would have access to the organization’s services.

Meals on Wheels provides free meals for seniors who want to live at home but who can no longer reliably make their own meals or leave their home to get food. In 2021, the nonprofit delivered over 1.2 million meals to residents in the greater Bexar County area, serving roughly 6,310 adults.

The new 44,000-square-foot headquarters is called “Campus of Grace” and sits on six acres of land off of Loop 410 and Nacogdoches. To give a sense of how substantial the upgrade is, Meals on Wheels San Antonio Board of Trustees Chair Steven Dean compared it to the organization’s current building.

“If you’ve been over to the Babcock [Loop] 410 facility, that entire facility will fit inside of the kitchen of this new facility,” Dean said. “I’ve told everyone that it’s going to be like they’re going from rubbing two sticks together to cook food to launching a rocket to cook food.”

The facade of the Campus of Grace.
Josh Peck
Texas Public Radio
The Campus of Grace.

The nonprofit’s CEO Vinsen Faris said Meals on Wheels San Antonio had been at their former location since 1995, and though it had served them well, the new facility would enable them to serve so many more people for decades to come.

Faris also explained that his organization’s mission was more than just delivering food.

“It’s more than just a meal though,” Faris said. “It’s a safety check with a knock on the door, it’s a smile on the face. It’s letting people know that they’re not forgotten.”

Outgoing Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff attended the ribbon-cutting and congratulated Meals on Wheels San Antonio for the Alzheimer’s activity center in the new campus, called Grace Space.

Mariachi at the Campus of Grace.
Mariachi playing at the Campus of Grace.

“My dad had Alzheimer’s and it’s a terrible thing to see that happen over a period of years where they finally reach a point where they really don’t know where they are and what they’re doing and they can’t communicate with you, so as long as you can work with them and allow them to live a life as long as they can, that’s fruitful, that makes a big big difference,” Wolff said.

Grace Place is a secured part of the facility where seniors with Alzheimer’s can stay and do activities while their caretaker — often a child or partner — is at work during the day. The open room can be partitioned off into smaller sections, and the entire space is awash with natural light.

Ariana Barbour said a real effort was made to make Grace Place feel like somewhere a caretaker would be glad to have their loved one stay at.

“Coming from where we were before, especially with regards to Grace Place, those other places just had lower ceilings — it’s just brighter and lighter and overall happier,” Barbour said.

Grace Place also has an enclosed outdoor sensory garden so seniors have the opportunity to get fresh air.

On the food preparation side of Meals on Wheels, Barbour highlighted the organization’s first-ever dedicated distribution center.

“We never had a dedicated space just for that at Babcock,” she said. “Our nutrition team would come off their shifts or be on their lunch hour at like 9 in the morning and our drivers would be packing up next to where they were at.”

Outside of the distribution center is a covered loading dock for drivers to get the food from the kitchen to the community.

With the new kitchen comes many large refrigerated and frozen spaces for meals to be kept for longer.

A portion of the kitchen as seen through an interior window in the building. Throughout the kitchen are dozens of blue Meals on Wheels bags used to store food and a sign that says "This represents the number of meals we deliver in a day!"
Josh Peck
Texas Public Radio
Part of the Campus of Grace kitchen, with food delivery bags arranged to represent how many meals Meals on Wheels San Antonio delivers in a day.

“I think it’s gonna be really really great because we’re actually gonna have space to store food,” Barbour said. “Right now, deliveries have to come in daily for us to be able to produce the food that’s gonna go out every day.”

The benefit from this capability goes beyond just storing food for longer.

“Here, we’ll have space to put on the shelves and hopefully get a little bit better buying power, and that way we can produce more delicious nutritious food for a little bit less,” Barbour said.

The new freezer capacity also includes a dedicated freezer for AniMeals, a program where Meals on Wheels San Antonio delivers pet food to seniors who are unable to reliably get food for their pets.

“The reason why that program was started with us is because we found out they were sharing their meals,” Barbour said. “So it’s something that we want to make sure doesn’t have to happen.”

Glass windows will allow staff and community members to see into the nonprofit’s state-of-the-art kitchen from an interior hallway near the entrance.

Because of the kitchen’s size and storage capacity, Meals on Wheels San Antonio could better support other communities outside of Bexar County if needed, such as in the case of a hurricane.

With the expanded facility, there is now also room for multiple conference rooms, break rooms, a locker room, and an outdoor space for staff to enjoy.

At the ribbon cutting, a mariachi band played to celebrate the millions of meals at Meals on Wheels San Antonio to come.

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