Trinity River Food Bank set to open by early summer

Trinity River Food Bank CEO Christine Shippey (left) and Melaney Strickland, community relations for the food bank, stand inside the new food bank facility in the Colony Ridge communities south of Plum Grove.

The Trinity River Food Bank, which serves a four-county area of Liberty, San Jacinto, Walker and Trinity counties, had originally planned to open its new 15,000 square-foot distribution center in Liberty County in July 2022; however, it now appears the facility will not be ready until spring or early summer of 2023.

“In the meantime, people can still get assistance at the Trinity River Food Bank in Cleveland or at one of our three other locations in Coldspring, Trinity or Huntsville,” said CEO Christine Shippey.

Construction of the new facility, located at 1768 CR 3558 in the Colony Ridge communities south of Plum Grove, is funded through a grant from the Houston Food Bank. An additional $476,000 grant from the T.L.L. Temple Foundation, announced this week, will help TRFB offset operation expenses, purchase trucks, shopping carts and equipment, and make investments in community partners that help with food distribution.

“I have several employees who are paid through grants by the Texas Department of Agriculture to help bring access to resources to low-income families and to help them understand that food is available,” Shippey said.

Once it opens later this year, the new facility will be unlike any food bank or food distribution in this area. Instead of handing out pre-packaged bags of food as seen in food distribution lines, inside the facility will be a 2,500 square-foot client choice pantry, designed to look like any other grocery store, but on a smaller scale.

“The thing about food banks is we aren’t going to solve hunger by simply handing out a bag of food. This will be a holistic approach for the people in need. We want interaction with clients, not just to stamp out hunger but to alleviate poverty. You aren’t going to alleviate poverty by saying, ‘Here is a bag of food.’ You do that by bringing back self-worth by allowing them to shop like in a grocery store. We have people who say they have come to food banks and never gotten items they want or need,” Shippey said.

The new Trinity River Food Bank will look like this artist’s rendering once construction is complete.

Once connected to the food bank services, clients also will have access to other resources like GED and ESL classes, and vocational training that will make them more employable. Those who qualify will also be connected to other services such as medical care, utility bill assistance, health and wellness checkups, SNAP (food stamps) and Medicaid.

These “wraparound services,” as Shippey calls them, would normally be provided by social service organizations in metropolitan areas. In the rural counties of Texas, there are fewer social service organizations, so food distribution has mainly come from small churches and community groups once or twice a month.

“We need food distribution every day. There are quantities of food that have to go into the counties based on their food insecurity numbers. In the four counties we serve, 1 in 5 people – children, seniors and adults – experience food insecurity. The Houston Food Bank’s priority is to get that amount of food into the communities, to make sure it’s nutritious and to make sure people in need have access to it,” Shippey said.

In mid-December, Bluebonnet News took a tour with Shippey of the construction site for the new facility. Inside the large warehouse contractors had already installed 20-foot tall racks that will be used to organize pallets of food. As of this week, walls of a 5,000 square-foot combination walk-in cooler/freezer were being installed by contractors.

“We are going to be moving food in and out pretty quickly. The warehouse can probably hold around 300 pallets of dry food at any given time. The freezer/cooler will be doubled stacked all the way through it,” Shippey said.

Looking around at the building, Shippey is still amazed that the food outreach has grown to this stage. It was only in 2014 when she helped organize the Covenant With Christ food bank in downtown Cleveland.

“The Cleveland area grew and we saw more and more people coming to this part of the country. Then we saw the great immigrant population surge,” Shippey said.

As the majority of the population growth that frequents the food bank comes from the Colony Ridge communities, made up of mostly Hispanic immigrants south of the U.S. border, Shippey said it made sense to locate the new facility in Colony Ridge.

“That’s when we approached the developers and said, ‘Hey, we are growing and need a space.’ They eventually gave us 6.33 acres. Not only will that provide for the food bank, but we are also going to build a learning center where these folks can learn a vocation, get their GED or learn English,” she said. “These families are working, but can’t make ends meet. Now we have inflation, so their dollars aren’t going as far.”

The new facility is being built by RGW Construction Company of Cleveland.

To reach the Trinity River Food Bank for an appointment or to find out more about the services offered, call 281-592-5001.

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