Food pantries, local groups step up to provide Thanksgiving foods

A volunteer hands out a box of stuffing at the Hope Food Pantry on Friday, Nov. 17. 2017. (KXAN/Chris Davis)
A volunteer hands out a box of stuffing at the Hope Food Pantry on Friday, Nov. 17. 2017. (KXAN/Chris Davis)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — As grocery stores around Central Texas prepare to stock and re-stock the shelves this week ahead of Thanksgiving, groups that serve people who often have to go without are also stepping up their efforts to provide holiday meal staples.

Hope Food Pantry, in the Hyde Park neighborhood, served dozens of families Friday, the last day they were open before Thanksgiving. Willie Mae Thompson was among them, shopping for her Thursday meal with her 3-year-old granddaughter.

“Just being thankful and grateful for people like these, because they’ve been helping me out for quite a while,” Thompson said, working her way down the line of volunteers handing out canned goods, boxes of stuffing, and other key ingredients. “Can’t do it without it,” she said, taking a can of cranberry sauce from one volunteer.

“Family and friends, they all want to come to my house for everything,” Thompson said, “so we welcome them over there.”

Donations flow in from food drives this time of year, which helps places like the Hope Food Pantry provide the holiday essentials. Friday morning the Griffin School, just up the road from Hope, also prepared donations.

“We have canned goods, vegetables, grains, proteins; we tried to get substantial items together,” 9th-grader Lily Chalk said as she unloaded box after box of food from the school’s bus. “It’s Thanksgiving, and giving thanks, we want to spread that around.”

Food pantries around the area also get substantial help year-round from the Central Texas Food Bank, and during the holiday season that group focuses more of its efforts on collecting the foods everyone hopes to find on their plates come Thursday.

“People are looking for those very traditional things like turkey, green beans, mashed potatoes, stuffing,” Mark Jackson, chief development officer at the food bank, said. “And so our job is to try and figure out how to provide those in addition to the stuff we’re doing day in and day out.”

The food bank, which serves 21 counties around the region, steps up its efforts this time of year, bringing in more volunteers and packaging more food to distribute to its partner food pantries like Hope. The grocery store chain Randalls donated 1,000 turkeys to the Central Texas Food Bank on Friday.

However, donations are not enough to ensure the group can give those in need the Thanksgiving many take for granted. “For us to have that stuff on hand,” Jackson said, “we have to have the money to go out and buy it.” The food bank looks for monetary donations during the run-up to the holiday in order to fulfill those needs.

Meanwhile, the grocery chain H-E-B is preparing to serve more than 14,000 meals during its annual Feast of Sharing in Austin on Tuesday, Nov. 21. Employees and volunteers will team up to cook and serve turkey and all the fixings to people in Austin from 4-8 p.m. at the Palmer Events Center at 900 Barton Springs Road. Tuesday’s event is one of 21 Feast of Sharing events across the state the company will host between now and the end of the year.

“Each year, we look forward to serving communities across Texas and expressing our gratitude by giving back during the holiday season,” group vice president of public affairs, diversity and environmental affairs Winell Herron said in a news release about the event.

There will be free parking at the events center, and H-E-B stores around the area have free one-day bus passes available on a first come, first serve basis to help people get to the meal service.

Back at Hope Food Pantry, Thompson was finishing up her shopping trip. “If we didn’t have any food, I’d be miserable,” she said. All that was left on her list was a turkey, and she said her faith gave her confidence she’d find one by Thursday.

As she was about to leave with her groceries, a volunteer at the food pantry walked up with a bulky brown paper bag. “Would you like a turkey?” the volunteer asked her.

“Yes!” Thompson said, excitedly clapping her hands. “Just speak the word and God hears that.” The food pantry doesn’t normally give out turkeys for logistical reasons; someone just happened to donate that one.

“Anyone can come to my house and eat,” Thompson said, carefully putting the frozen bird in her cart. She turned to the volunteers. “If y’all want to come over I’ll give you my address and y’all can come on by.”

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