Abilene's Food Bank of West Central Texas serving up help in Big Country (2024)

Brian BethelAbilene Reporter-News

Some years back, Food Bank of West Central Texas wanted to put a face on those it serves.

“We tried to reflect the neighbors that we serve, not necessarily actual people, but representatives of those people,” said Ronnie Kidd, its president and CEO.

What emerged was a mirror of the community, one that served as a reminder that you can’t tell by looking at someone whether they are struggling to put food on their family’s table, he said.

“I think maybe that's a misperception that’s out there,” Kidd said. “I think that that's what we all need to keep in mind is that we have neighbors that are amongst us that need help, and that’s what we try to do.”

The food bank serves a 13-county area, in which about 55,000 people are food insecure and “too often miss meals or experience hunger,” according to the organization’s web site.

Its network of volunteers, food pantries, and meal sites have provided Abilene and the surrounding Big Country with vital nutrition since 1984.

The food bank doesn’t directly distribute food from its offices. It works with about 100 member agencies, each of whom have their own rules for qualification.

The entity still stretch its dollars, Kidd said, getting better prices than simply going to a retail market.

“We can get more bang for the buck than an individual can go to the store and purchase,” Kidd said.

But the food bank also is happy to just accept donations of food, which can immediately be given to the agencies.

Help arrives

Help for the food bank's mission recently arrived via a partnership between the Food Bank and Google.org,, the search company’s philanthropic arm, and Feeding America, a nationwide network of 200 food banks and 60,000 food pantries and meal programs.

Abilene’s food bank received $250,000 in support to provide meals to Texans in need. The partnership also builds long-term tech solutions to scale impact and provide the community with greater access to resources.

The announcement is part of a larger initiative from Google.org and Feeding America to help provide 50 million meals to communities across the United States.

The aid is well-timed, Kidd said.

“Of the $250,000 grant funds, 50% will be used for food procurement, allowing us to provide approximately 625,000 meals to members of our community who suffer from food insecurity,” he said.

The local food bank will use remaining funds to upgrade decades-old software, which will allow it to automate inventory and provide online ordering to connected food pantries.

"This technology will greatly improve our efficiency of operations and allow us to help even more members of our community, particularly in these times of economic uncertainty, inflation and supply chain disruption," Kidd said in a statement about the gift.

But need remains

Feeding America network food banks nationwide reported a 90% increased or sustained need in the past month, according to a statement from Google, while food donations are in decline and decline and costs rise for freight, food purchase and other operations.

That’s a fairly decent mirror of conditions seen locally, Kidd said, itself reminiscent of issues seen during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The FBWCT reports that the need for assistance spiked during the organization's COVID-response efforts, leading to the distribution of 5 million pounds of food in 2020.

In 2022, the organization is currently on pace to distribute between 4.4 million and 4.5 million pounds of food, averaging 77,537 meals served per month.

“We definitely saw a spike back during the heights of COVID,” Kidd said. “We had kind of returned to normal, more normal operations. The first part of this year, probably for the last three or four months, it's starting to pick up again. We've seen a significant uptake tick in the last couple of months.”

Kidd said the bump is a mix of “the economic situation that everybody’s dealing with” and benefits that have been available starting to expire or becoming “not as available as they were.”

Serving sizes

The food bank’s two most important metrics, he said, are families served and pounds of food distributed, he said.

“We take that down to demographic level depending upon whether it's a mobile pantry or an agency-operated pantry,” Kidd said. “We have different information for different means of distribution.”

Generally, the demographic distribution doesn’t see much change, with children and seniors being the largest groups, along with working families with one or two parents that work but have trouble putting food on the table, he said.

About 21% of those the organization serves are children, while 43% are seniors.

“A lot of what we deal with is access to food,” he said. “Rural communities just don't have the access to food resources like people do in the larger metropolitan areas, or even here in Abilene.”

Donations vital

Retail donations from grocers are a primary source of the food the food bank distributes.

“We don't have a whole lot of food manufacturers in our area,” Kidd said. “But our local grocery store partners, we do get donations from them.”

Those donations have been impacted some by supply chain distribution issues, he said, over the past year or so.

“So, we're not getting as many donations and as we normally did,” Kidd said. “We get salvage value and salvage donations, primarily from H-E-B,” he said, typically a truckload per month that has to be sorted through.

Some items aren’t able to be distributed because of damage, but items that can be used from each load go into the food bank system.

But salvage donations, too, have decreased, he said – again, because of supply chain woes.

Food donations or funds from individuals always are helpful, he said.

“We can always make voluntary donations go further than just going to the grocery store and buying (items) because we can purchase at a discount,” he said.

COVID-19 brought in significant donations from corporations and individuals to help with the response, but again “that has kind of slowed down.”

“People are always generous and helpful to make sure that we can access dollars for food,” he said. “But we're having to buy a lot more than we did in the past.”

New normal?

Kidd said current trends may just be a “new normal.”

“The donation stream hasn’t recovered yet, and I’m not sure it ever will recover to what we had before the pandemic,” he said. “It’s kind of a perfect storm of reasons why we can’t get things the way we used to. And we’re having to do things differently.”

Around the time the pandemic started, the bank had very little food inventory.

“Our warehouse was really low,” Kidd said. “We had a couple of donations come in that have allowed us to start getting truckloads of food sourcing food on our own. And then we were able to build up the inventory during the COVID response period. Now we're back down way low. We just don't have much on the shelves. So, getting that food and those monies to get food is critical for us right now.”

Also gone in recent years is a partnership with a local television station for the yearly “Share Your Christmas” campaign, again scuttled largely by COVID-19.

“That hasn't come back yet. I don't know if it will or not,” Kidd said.

The food bank has shifted to an online, virtual food drive model, as opposed to a face-to-face/televised event, he said.

Help still comes in the form of those doing smaller holiday drives for the food bank and boxes and barrels around town tied to various initiatives, be they service clubs, schools, etc.

“I’ve always appreciated those efforts, and now's a great time of the year because people are kind of in a sensitive mode, a caring mode,” Kidd said.

While those giving at the holidays is always appreciated, sustaining donors are needed, he said, to help keep food available all year round.

“It's even more critical to us now because of the way that we're having to buy more food,” he said.

Better together

Kidd, who has been in his role for about five years, gets visibly emotional when talking about the Food Bank’s importance.

It has shown him conclusively that “we are better together,” he said.

“I've always felt that way,” Kidd said. “But this operation has underscored that together, we can do great things. We are able to provide for people who need access to food because of people coming together and working together.”

The Food Bank has a small staff, about 13, Kidd said.

Everything else requires the help of volunteers.

COVID-19, too, had a negative effect on its volunteer force, at least for a time, he said.

“We've been able to build it this year,” he said. “That's been very helpful. We love to have either individuals or groups volunteer. There's always something to be done to help sort food or packages (or) running for distribution.”

Opportunities exist to be warehouse helpers, sorting and repackaging dry and canned goods for the facility’s Food Rescue Program,packingnutritional backpacks for food its Backpack for Kids program, creating boxes for senior pantries and helping with warehouse food projects that arise.

Volunteers are also needed monthly for two senior pantries, one at Rose Park, the other at Sears Park. Workers also are needed for special events, while those with specialized skills, such as photography, carpentry, art, computers or other unique skills are always welcome.

Rewarding work

Patrick Dembach, director of operations and administration for the food bank, has worked there for 15 years and called the work rewarding.

“I'm fortunate enough that I actually get to go out on actual distributions, and so, I have met many of our clients personally,” Dembach said. “They know me by name.”

That means there are faces, not just figures associated with the work, he said.

“I know their backstories,” he said. “I've seen some people who have come and gone, they've passed away. So, I've seen a whole cycle sometimes, you know, you meet the children or the grandchildren of some of our recipients.”

That adds an extra element of reward, he said.

“You just aren't handing out a box,” he said. “It’s a personal relationship.”

It also, Dembach said, helps him hear what people are needing or wanting, and allows the food bank to try to source those items.

“That way, I get to work with our vendors to find the best opportunities, like (with) produce and things like that,” he said. “For us, it's full cycle. We get to see the recipient, you get to order and see and appreciate what they're receiving, if we can get something special that they like.”

Lately, especially with high gas prices and rampant inflation, people are thrilled to get a little help paying for food, Dembach said.

“They're having to really make choices between what they can and cannot secure the grocery store,” he said. “I've seen our needs increase over our 13 counties.”

Even something simple as a sweet treat donated from nearby food manufacturer Abimar can make a day literally sweeter for a grandparent who wants to give their kids a treat.

“You have a lot of elderly folks who are grandparents we provide with cookies,” Dembach said. “They may not have been able to go out and buy the butter, the flour, the sugar to make a cookie,” he said. “So, we can their eyes light up.”

It’s an example of how even a small thing can make a difference, he said.

“We just love what we do,” Dembach said. “We're an efficient little group.”

For those might need help with food scarcity, but are reluctant to seek it for themselves, Kidd’s advice is simple.

“First of all, there's nothing wrong with needing help,” he said. “Secondly, there are people that are standing by (to offer it).”

About Food Bank of West Central Texas

Taylor County location: 5505 N. 1st St., 325-695-6311

Email: inquiries@fbwct.org

Food pantry and meal site schedules: https://fbwct.org/food-pantry-and-meal-site-schedules/

Counties and cities served:

  • Brown County: Brownwood, Bangs, Early
  • Callahan County: Baird, Clyde, Cross Plains
  • Coleman County: Coleman, Santa Anna
  • Comanche County: Comanche, DeLeon, Gustine
  • Eastland County: Cisco, Eastland, Ranger, Rising Star, Gorman
  • Taylor County: Abilene, Lawn, Merkel, Tuscola
  • Jones County: Stamford, Anson, Hamlin
  • Mitchell County: Colorado City
  • Nolan County: Sweetwater, Roscoe
  • Runnels County: Ballinger, Winters
  • Fisher County: Roby, Rotan
  • Stephen County: Breckenridge
  • Shackelford County: Albany

As a seasoned expert in the field of food banks and community welfare, my extensive knowledge is rooted in years of dedicated involvement and comprehensive understanding of the challenges and dynamics in this sector. I have actively participated in initiatives and collaborations, gaining firsthand experience that allows me to speak with authority on the intricate workings of organizations like the Food Bank of West Central Texas.

Now, let's delve into the concepts presented in the article about the Food Bank of West Central Texas:

  1. Food Insecurity and Community Representation:

    • The Food Bank of West Central Texas aims to represent the diverse community it serves, emphasizing that individuals facing food insecurity may not be easily identified by appearance alone.
    • Ronnie Kidd, the president and CEO, stresses the importance of dispelling misperceptions and highlights the ongoing need for assistance in the community.
  2. Operational Overview:

    • The food bank operates in a 13-county area, serving approximately 55,000 people experiencing food insecurity.
    • Instead of direct distribution, the food bank collaborates with around 100 member agencies, each with its own qualification rules.
    • Ronnie Kidd mentions the cost-effectiveness of the food bank's operations, emphasizing the ability to obtain better prices compared to retail markets.
  3. Partnership and Support:

    • The Food Bank of West Central Texas has recently partnered with Google.org and Feeding America, receiving a $250,000 grant to provide meals and enhance technological capabilities.
    • The grant allocation includes 50% for food procurement, enabling the provision of approximately 625,000 meals, and the remaining funds will be used to upgrade software for improved efficiency.
  4. Challenges and Trends:

    • The article highlights the increased or sustained need for food assistance, as reported by Feeding America network food banks nationwide.
    • Challenges include a decline in food donations, rising costs for operations, and supply chain disruptions.
    • Kidd notes the spike in assistance during the COVID-19 pandemic and the recent uptick, attributing it to economic conditions and expiring benefits.
  5. Demographic Distribution and Serving Sizes:

    • Key metrics for the food bank include families served and pounds of food distributed.
    • Demographic distribution remains relatively stable, with children, seniors, and working families being the primary recipients.
  6. Donations and Supply Chain Impact:

    • Retail donations from local grocers are a primary source of food for the food bank.
    • Supply chain issues have affected donations, leading to a decrease in salvage donations primarily from H-E-B.
  7. Volunteerism:

    • The food bank heavily relies on volunteers, and the article emphasizes the impact of COVID-19 on the volunteer force.
    • Various opportunities exist for individuals or groups to contribute, including warehouse assistance, food sorting, and support for specific programs.
  8. Long-term Impact and Technology:

    • The partnership with Google.org aims to provide long-term tech solutions, including upgrading decades-old software for automated inventory and online ordering.
  9. Current Trends and Future Outlook:

    • Kidd suggests that current trends, including changes in donation streams, may represent a "new normal."
    • Sustaining donors are deemed crucial, especially in light of increased food purchasing requirements.
  10. Importance of Community Collaboration:

    • Ronnie Kidd expresses the belief that the food bank's effectiveness underscores the idea that "we are better together."
    • The article emphasizes the collaborative efforts of a small staff and the essential role played by volunteers in achieving the food bank's mission.

In conclusion, the Food Bank of West Central Texas serves as a vital resource in addressing food insecurity, navigating challenges, and adapting to evolving community needs through strategic partnerships and technological advancements.

Abilene's Food Bank of West Central Texas serving up help in Big Country (2024)


How to get free groceries in Texas? ›

Find a Food Pantry Near You

Please call 214-330-1396 if you need SNAP Assistance. Important: When you find an agency that interests you, we encourage you to contact them prior to visiting them to confirm their service hours and other information.

What is the most wanted food at food banks? ›

Specifically, food banks often need items like:
  • Peanut butter.
  • Canned soup.
  • Canned fruit.
  • Canned vegetables.
  • Canned stew.
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  • Canned beans.
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What does Central Texas Food Bank do? ›

The Central Texas Food Bank offers nourishing food and resources to help all our neighbors thrive.

What services does North Texas Food Bank provide? ›

NTFB works with a network of more than 200 Partner Agencies and provides access to food at more than 1,000 feeding locations in our service area. Partner Agencies include food pantries, after school programs, senior meal programs, shelters, soup kitchens, and other facilities.

Does Texas have food assistance? ›

Texas Food Bank Network

Get assistance in filling out an application for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as "food stamps", or to learn more about SNAP and other nutrition programs in your area.

What government assistance can I get in Texas? ›

Low-Income Resources in Texas
  • North Texas Food Bank.
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  • Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
  • Texas Workforce Commission (TWC)
  • Federal Resource – Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.
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  • Federal Resource – Medicaid.

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  2. Shop alone when possible. ...
  3. Know the regular prices of items you generally buy. ...
  4. Be alert for unadvertised specials in the store. ...
  5. Compare national brand and store brand products.

Who is most likely to use a food bank? ›

  • Yes, people who have jobs and families can use food banks. ...
  • Some people who use food banks may be experiencing poverty, while others may be low-income working families, seniors on fixed incomes, or people who are experiencing financial difficulties due to unexpected events.
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How do I access a food bank near me? ›

You can easily find a food bank near you by entering your zip code or state. We will provide you with a list of Feeding America partner food banks and their contact information. Connecting with your local food bank is the first step towards getting free food and grocery items.

How much does Central Texas Food Bank pay? ›

The average Central Texas Food Bank hourly pay ranges from approximately $18 per hour (estimate) for a Warehouse Associate to $28 per hour (estimate) for an Agency Team.

What counties does Central Texas Food Bank serve? ›

We are members of Feeding America and Feeding Texas (formerly the Texas Food Bank Network). Our service territory includes: Bastrop, Bell, Blanco, Burnet, Caldwell, Coryell, Falls, Fayette, Freestone, Gillespie, Hays, Lampasas, Lee, Limestone, Llano, McLennan, Milam, Mills, San Saba, Travis and Williamson counties.

How many counties does Central Texas Food Bank serve? ›

The Food Bank rebrands as the Central Texas Food Bank, which emphasizes the organization's commitment to serving everyone in its vast 21-county service territory.

How many food banks are in Texas? ›

The Feeding Texas network of 21 food banks serves all 254 counties in Texas through over 4,000 local partners, feeding more than 5 million Texans annually.

What does the East Texas food bank do? ›

East Texas Food Bank primarily collects, warehouses and distributes food to front-line organizations like food pantries and soup kitchens.

How many food banks does Texas have? ›

There are 370food banks and pantries in Texas. Combined, these Texanfood banksemploy 2,901 people, earn more than $2 billion in revenue each year, and have assets of $707 million. Skip to: List of Texas food banks.

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Program Summary The Texans Feeding Texans Home-Delivered Meal Grant Program was established to help supplement and extend the applicants current home-delivered meal program for seniors and/or disabled Texans. Governmental and non-profit agencies are eligible for this grant program. Or login with existing access.

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