El Pasoans Fighting Hunger, the food bank for El Paso as well as Culbertson and Hudspeth counties, has come a long way in five years and is launching a public fundraising campaign this week to vastly expand its reach.
The target is $7.7 million to bring the food bank up to speed with other large cities with significant populations of people who are food insecure or going hungry.
“We were behind the eight ball for all those years when our food bank was operated out of Odessa, and bringing it to El Paso has made a huge difference,” said El Paso businessman Tanny Berg, chair of the food bank board who led the effort to bring the nonprofit home.
“When we started, the total amount of food being distributed was about 400,000 pounds a year,” Berg said. “That sounds like a lot, but when you divide it amongst 170,000 El Pasoans who qualified for assistance, it was nothing.
“But last year, we distributed almost 15.5 million pounds of food. We’ve made great strides, but we’re not halfway there yet. We should be distributing 40 million pounds to be in line with San Antonio, which has the same number of hungry people as El Paso.”
Who are they?
“I think there are misconceptions of who they are, so let me put it this way: 42 percent of the people this food bank serves are 9 years old or younger, 56 percent are 16 or younger and 28 percent are 75 or older.
“So it’s kids and seniors.”
The public capital campaign to raise $7.7 million kicks off Friday, and the second most expensive improvement is already in place – two very large commercial coolers and a monster freezer for which the food bank borrowed $1.6 million from WestStar Bank.
The formal unveiling of those additions to the food bank’s growing operation will be at 2 p.m. Friday at 9541 Plaza Circle.
Susan Goodell, who has accelerated the food bank’s growth since taking over as executive director in 2015, said the coolers and freezer will make a huge difference.
“Before, we were having to lease space at Southwest Refrigeration and at Stagecoach,” she said. “As wonderful as it was to have them when we had a lot of product, it was extremely difficult logistically because we had product in three different places.”
The budget for the fundraising effort includes $1 million for a new roof, $921,000 for new trucks and equipment, $780,000 for the rehabilitation of the warehouse the food bank uses, $420,000 for a clean room and $462,300 for volunteer and office space.
“Why do we need all this?” she said. “We are growing very fast. Last year, we increased the amount of food in the community by 46% from 10.4 million pounds to 15.5 million.
“We are currently pacing at 26 million pounds for this year, so it will be another year of dramatic growth.”
Last year, El Pasoans Fighting Hunger took over the federally funded lunch and breakfast programs for schools in El Paso and six other West Texas counties serving 185,000 children a day.
The biggest item on the fundraising list is $1.7 million for a very large community kitchen to meet a long list of needs. Going forward with that project depends on winning a Community Development Block Grant from the city.
“It’s desperately needed,” Goodell said. “There is no community kitchen in El Paso now, and we’re the largest city in America without one. They are critical for providing food for the most vulnerable.
“We’re talking about children who are out of school in summer or during winter break, and people who can’t prepare their own meals, like shut-in seniors and refugees.”
At the height of the refugee influx into El Paso, the food bank was providing 50,000 pounds of food a week for them.
El Pasoans Fighting Hunger is still serving the Annunciation House operation at the Eastside warehouse where migrants stay after federal processing until heading off to stay with relatives sponsors to await asylum hearings.
“What I hope people will understand is the food bank is literally the backbone of the social safety net here in El Paso,” Goodell said. “We provide ingredients for 60,000 meals every single day.
“This is now a trucking, warehousing and logistics business with a charitable mission. We need the tools to do the job of feeding over 200,000 people in this community.”
Email El Paso Inc. reporter David Crowder at email@example.com or call (915) 534-4422, ext. 122 and (915) 630-6622.