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Beyond Food: 6 Ways Food Banks Uplift Local Communities

Person holding produce standing in front of racks of produce. Courtesy of San Antonio Food Bank

Food banks play a vital role in communities, distributing millions of pounds of produce, nonperishables, and other staple items every year to some of society’s most vulnerable people, including children, seniors, and those living in poverty. In this way, food banks are instrumental in fighting not only hunger but also food insecurity, defined as the condition of consistently lacking access to the nutrition one needs to live a healthy and active life.

That’s why Copenhagen is proud to team up once again with five local food banks in Arizona and Texas – St. Mary’s Food Bank, the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona, the San Antonio Food Bank, the Central Texas Food Bank, and El Pasoans Fighting Hunger – for the third annual 5&5 Charity Food Drive. By donating 5% of gross sales to local food banks, as well as offering a 5% discount to customers who donate 5 nonperishable food items or $25 to a participating food bank, we hope to raise $60,000 to fight hunger in our communities.

But did you know food banks offer a wealth of amazing programs beyond food distribution? To raise awareness of the incredible work our food banks do, we’d like to spotlight six lesser-known ways food banks uplift our communities and help individuals to live healthier, more secure, and more fulfilling lives.

1. Culinary and Job Training

Many food banks have in-house culinary programs that train students for a successful career in the food industry.

For instance, St. Mary’s Food Bank in Phoenix offers the Community Kitchen, a free 9-week program providing hands-on training for the culinary field. Individuals are encouraged to apply if they are interested in working in food service and are facing at least one significant barrier to employment. At the end of the program, graduates of the Community Kitchen are qualified to work as a prep cook, line cook, or dishwasher. St. Mary’s aims to make this program as accessible and effective as possible and offers sessions starting every three weeks, as well as job placement support after graduation.

Indeed, food bank culinary programs often provide not only skills directly related to cooking – like meal preparation, equipment operation, knife usage, and food safety – but they also teach relevant auxiliary skills that can give students a competitive edge in the industry. For instance, the San Antonio Food Bank’s Culinary Training Program teaches professional recipe writing, pricing, and menu design and development, in addition to the basics of food prep. Students in the Central Texas Food Bank’s Culinary Training Program learn complementary lessons in financial literacy, resume building, and interview skills.

Uniquely, some food banks, like St. Mary’s and the San Antonio Food Bank, also offer warehouse and logistics training programs. For example, the LIFT (Logistics, Inventory, Forklift Training) program at St. Mary’s Food Bank is a free 6-week course that aims to give individuals with barriers to employment “a second chance in life by providing all the skills necessary to be successful in the warehouse and logistics industry.” Students gain knowledge of topics like forklift operation, materials handling, warehouse safety, supply chain logistics, and quality control. The course also teaches life skills such as anger/stress management, communication, and financial literacy.

2. Farming and Gardening Courses

Directly entwined with the central mission of food banks to make food more accessible for everyone, farm and garden programs offer valuable education to anyone interested in growing their own food.

Courses run by the Central Texas Food Bank and the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona teach community members the fundamentals of gardening and farming, as well as more in-depth skills. For instance, the Community Food Bank’s workshops delve into a wide range of topics, from planting, water conservation, and composting; to beekeeping, raising chickens, and food justice. These courses are held at the Nuestra Tierra Learning Garden and Las Milpitas Community Farm and are free and open to all ages and experience levels. “Growing your own food is more than just a way to reduce grocery costs and access healthy food,” the Community Food Bank website states, “It’s a way to connect with the land, connect with your roots, and connect with community.”

3. Nutrition Education

Learning about the role of nutrition goes hand in hand with having access to quality food.

At the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona, a dedicated Health & Nutrition team integrates nutrition education into the food distribution process, via live cooking demos or recipe cards for quick and healthy meals. They also offer a program called Cooking Matters at the Store, which pairs local parents with food bank facilitators on guided grocery tours. During the tours, they learn to “shop for affordable produce, identify whole grains, read nutrition labels, and compare unit prices to make the best choices for their families.”

Similarly, the San Antonio Food Bank also provides nutrition, health, and wellness courses for food-insecure populations. Taught by qualified professionals like registered dietitians, certified chefs, public health workers, and master gardeners, the classes cover topics like healthy eating habits, prevention of chronic diseases, and ways to adopt a physically active lifestyle.

4. Benefits Assistance

Food banks help connect people in need to a larger network of resources that can offer a wider safety net.

The Central Texas Food Bank and San Antonio Food Bank are just two food banks that offer one-on-one help to community members wanting to apply for SNAP (formerly known as Food Stamps), which offers extra money for groceries each month to individuals who meet income requirements. These two food banks can also assist with applying to other government benefits programs like Medicaid, CHIP, TANF, and Healthy Texas Women.

5. Advocacy

Ending food insecurity on a societal level is a challenging goal, but food banks persist tirelessly in their advocacy.

For example, the Central Texas Food Bank advocates at the federal, state, and local levels in support of policies that fight food insecurity. Their list of goals at the federal level includes everything from “encouraging Congress to pass meaningful legislation to improve and expand child nutrition programs” to “increasing support for veterans and military families to eliminate food insecurity among those who serve and have served our country.”

6. Pet Programs

Food security should be a right for all members of a family – including pets.

The San Antonio Food Bank website declares, “No family should have to choose between putting food on the table and caring for their beloved companions.” Their unique pet programs serve to fight hunger among pets and promote the well-being of companion animals in the community. Partnering with the organization DaisyCares, the San Antonio Food Bank distributes pet food to anyone in need of it and works with pet stores and manufacturers to acquire pet food donations. SAFB and DaisyCares also have a collaborative program named PAWedu, described as “an innovative online rehabilitation education program for individuals cited for animal neglect cases.” PAWedu’s courses are designed to teach a more humane, empathetic, and responsible approach to animal guardianship.

Through food distribution and a wealth of auxiliary programs, food banks are dedicated to helping all community members access healthy food and a better way of life. Whether they’re offering culinary courses, gardening demos, or even education on responsible pet ownership, our local food banks go above and beyond to realize their vision of a society where no one goes to bed hungry, and everyone can thrive.

If you’re looking for ways to support your local food bank, consider participating in our 5&5 Charity Food Drive through April 14, 2024. Or visit the website of your nearest food bank – St. Mary’s Food Bank, the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona, San Antonio Food Bank, Central Texas Food Bank, or El Pasoans Fighting Hunger – to find more ways to contribute to the cause.