Mobile food pantry distributions are cancelled today
Mobile food pantry distributions are cancelled today
Mobile Pantry distributions are cancelled
Mobile Pantry distributions are cancelled

Food Bank Supports Harvest Blessings Food Pantry with Capacity Building Grant

May04

Save for a couple of skilled workers, Harvest Blessings Food Pantry is entirely run on the dedication and passion of its volunteers. At the helm of the operation, Carol and her husband Pastor Brian lead the efforts to serve their patrons with access to myriad services, primarily access to food. “We always focus, in the neighborhoods we're working in, what are the practical needs that we can help offset or fulfill?” says Brian. The focus to meet the unique needs of the community is evident in the culture of the Food Pantry, starting with the tone that Brian and Carol set with their volunteers. Volunteers arrive with home-cooked meals for the rest of the group, Brian leads them in prayer prior to the start of the shift and Carol greets and chats with every family that drives up during the distribution.

Image
Harvest Blessings Food Pantry - Carol

Like many organizations, Harvest Blessings saw a tremendous increase in need as soon as the pandemic hit. What began as a small, humble operation suddenly needed to find a way to keep up with the sudden, quick changes brought about by new safety restrictions and larger numbers. They adapted quickly, but as the need remained higher than pre-pandemic numbers, they saw a great opportunity in the capacity building grant and applied.

Upon receiving the additional support, the team hit the ground running, outfitting a previously donated warehouse space at their East Austin distribution site. The extra storage now helps the organization manage their own inventory and provides space for volunteers to organize boxes and bags that will be placed in patrons’ cars during food distributions. The grant also helped them purchase commercial grade refrigeration for both their East and South Austin locations and an AC unit and security system for the warehouse.

Image
Harvest Blessings Food Pantry - Tran

Just like the rest of the operation, the organization of the warehouse outfit was led by the Harvest Blessings volunteer team. After the AC unit was walled off to minimize noise, a local artist painted a mural across the wall to honor the food pantry’s mission with the help of community volunteers. Folks have added their own notes of wisdom and appreciation since then and the mural now greets every person who walks into the warehouse with its vibrant colors and messages of hope.

Image
Harvest Blessings Food Pantry - Mural

Of course, with an increased need in services comes an increased need for helping hands. While the pantry continues to see a need for volunteers, particularly Spanish speakers, the support from the capacity building grant has allowed them to expand their website to include a volunteer management system. Any volunteer, individual or group can now head to the Austin Blessings Co-op website and register for a volunteer shift of their preference online. “[Money] helps because we are able to build the infrastructure, but we can’t automate putting those bags of groceries in their car, we can’t automate the assembly of food,” says Brian on the need for volunteers. “We’re really working hard right now to be attractive to organizations all across the community. You tell us what your talents are and we will find a place for you to engage the community. That’s what we’re trying to get out right now.” The addition of the volunteer portal has helped the food pantry register more than 700 volunteers in the five months it’s been active. They continue to share their volunteer opportunities through word of mouth and social media in efforts to continue recruiting.

Image
Harvest Blessings Food Pantry - Volunteer

The need for support is crucial for an organization like Harvest Blessings, because it continues to operate, rain or shine.. “We are adamant that there is a need in the community and we cannot miss. So, on a cold, rainy Wednesday, we’re going to be open. In fact, it’s those times where I’ve felt like we’re needed the most,” says Brian. Serving just over 1,000 households each week, Harvest Blessings is also adamant about not turning people away. One of the biggest losses for food banks and food pantries all over the country since COVID-19 was the walk-up distribution model. While drive-through models have many advantages for some clients, there are also many who lose the ability to pick up food because they don’t have access to a vehicle. Recently, and with the added benefit of the warehouse space, Harvest Blessings has been able to re-introduce a small walk-up distribution next to their drive-through at both their East and South Austin locations. Clients are able to pick up a box of food put together by a special team of volunteers in the warehouse.

Image
Harvest Blessings Food Pantry - Walk-Up

“Anyone who is in a vulnerable situation in our broader community is welcome,” says Brian. “We serve them without reservation.” We thank Brian, Carol, and all the folks who make Harvest Blessings Food Pantry possible and we are honored to see the work they have accomplished so far with the support of our capacity building grant. Thanks for all that you do to fight hunger in our community!

Sign up to volunteer with Harvest Blessing Food Pantry here.