After operating out of a former automotive shop in Cleveland for the last couple of years, the Trinity River Food Bank will soon have its own facility to better assist its four-county service area that includes Liberty, San Jacinto, Walker and Trinity counties. The new food bank will be located at 1768 CR 3558 in the Santa Fe community south of Plum Grove.
At a ceremonial groundbreaking on Wednesday, March 23, TRFB CEO Christine Shippey said the mission is to change and touch lives by providing food to people who are food insecure and giving them resources to help lift their families out of poverty.
“We are here today because unfortunately 1 in 5 people – children, seniors and adults – in these counties we serve, which is Liberty, San Jacinto, Walker and [Trinity] – is dealing with food insecurity. That means they might have food for one day and then the next day not know where their next meal will come from,” said Shippey.
The Trinity River Food Bank’s origins began with Covenant for Christ, an organization that Shippey led.
“It started for me in 2014 when a Bible school student who is here today – Tammy Wood – she and I started seeing that the need for food distribution in Cleveland was growing. People were coming up to us and saying, ‘We can’t get food.’ That’s when we reached out to the Houston Food Bank,” Shippey said.
They started by serving 75 families per week. Not only after, they started working with food distribution during disaster relief. Then a network of organizations started coming together with a single purpose of providing food to people in need.
“By 2018, we were the hub for the Houston Food Bank, serving four counties with a network of 21 distribution partners. In 2019, we were approached by the Houston Food Bank to consider become a PDO (partner distribution organization). We are so thankful they approached us,” she said.
Just three years ago, TRFB distributed 5 million pounds of food in a single year. During 2020, the year of the start of the pandemic, 11 million pounds of food was distributed. In 2021, with many pantries struggling to open with COVID still ongoing and with many other sites closed, TRFB still was able to distribute 8 million pounds of food to residents in the four-county service area.
“By 2027, in this hub distribution center that we are sitting and standing on today, we expect to more than double that by 2027 or before by 17 million pounds,” Shippey said. “We are very excited to be the new food bank – the 22nd food bank in the State of Texas, in the year 2022.”
The new building is expected to be open and ready to serve the community by July 2022.
Raising funds for the building was no small task, Shippey said.
“We set out to raise $3.5 million and I am excited to say with more than $3 million generously committed to our efforts so far, I could not be more humbled by the support and partnership of each and every one of you who is here today,” she said. “The future looks bright for this corner of Texas. Before you know it, clients will be coming through that driveway. We will be open five days a week for client-choice pantry and client-choice curbside pickup.”
Clients will have access to an app that allows them to choose their food online and sign up for much-needed programs and services. Shippey said she plans to offer GED testing and vocational courses in the future to help people change the trajectory of their lives.
The food bank would not have been possible without the generous donations from individuals, organizations, corporations, churches and foundations, such as T.L.L. Temple Foundation, a Lufkin-based foundation with a motto of working “alongside rural communities to build a thriving East Texas and to alleviate poverty, creating access and opportunity for all.”
Laura Squiers, the senior program officer for the Temple Foundation, said that the more they learned of the TRFB project, the more they realized how it aligned with their goals and mission.
“One of our goals is to ensure that people have access to healthy food options. We worked on this goal by helping to build the capacity of organizations like the Trinity River Food Bank. Having the opportunity to invest in this capital campaign was exciting to us,” Squiers said. “We recognized early on that the Trinity River Food Bank would be a strong partner in our objective to address food insecurity.”
Like Shippey, Squiers is confident that the TRFB will meet its goal of doubling distribution of food by 2027.
Representatives of the Houston Food Bank, where the food provided to the Cleveland food bank will originate and helped guide TRFB to grow into the four-county partner distribution organization, attended the ceremonial groundbreaking Wednesday. Houston Food Bank President and CEO Brian Greene said providing services in rural counties is more challenging than urban areas.
“In rural areas, look at how spread out everyone is, which is a great way to live, but from a resource standpoint it can be difficult. When people are closer together, it’s easier for organizations that are well-funded to be able to provide services,” Greene said.
However, the efforts of TRFB have changed the four-county area it serves from being among the worst in Texas for services and to becoming one of the best, Greene added.
“In crisis situations, I’ve noticed over the years that you can put people into three categories – some people stand up, most people step back and some step in the way, but it’s those people willing to step up who matter. We need more people who will step up and we need people who will work together,” he said. “Trinity River Food Bank has become a force for better lives, not just in this community but in Texas. We are so grateful to be able to stand with you today.”