Emily Mares, volunteer engagement manager at The Central Texas Food Bank, shares facts and resources for those in need.
By Allie Justis, Photo courtesy of The Central Texas Food Bank
The Central Texas Food Bank is literally and figuratively bringing their best to the table in response to the crises rocking Central Texas this year.
One of many setting the bar for the fight against hunger is Emily Mares. She’s the volunteer engagement manager at the Central Texas Food Bank. Mares provides context about the role of the food bank, as well as advice for the millions of people facing food insecurity this year.
“Our mission is to lead the fight against hunger and to feed our hungry neighbors,” says Mares. “We serve an area that is 21 counties. Which is twice the size of Massachusetts, so we’re serving quite a large region.”
Mares shared a few sobering statistics about how the pandemic has massively affected the Texas community. Namely, before the pandemic the Central Texas Food Bank used to spend an average of $100,000 a month on food for its clients. Now that number has jumped to over $1 million a month in order to provide the proper resources for the community.
There has been a dramatic increase in need, especially after the winter storm that devastated lower income communities in Central Texas. However, Mares says the outpouring of support from Austinites has been extraordinary.
“We had so many people reaching out asking how they could help and how they could help get food to the people who needed it,” says Mares. “We even posted a last-minute volunteer shift during the storm. It filled up in nine minutes, which is the fastest we’ve ever seen a shift fill up. We also set personal records at Amplify Austin this year. Raising more than 2.8 million meals, which was the most we’ve ever made.”
The Cost of Food Insecurity
Mares emphasized that now more than ever is the perfect time for Austinites to get involved in their communities. Food insecurity is affecting so many Texas citizens.
“Prior to the pandemic, we knew that 1 in 7 adults in central Texas were facing hunger. Over the summer, that number changed to 1 in 5,” says Mares. “So 20% of adults in Texas overall are being impacted by hunger. Also before the pandemic, 1 in 5 children in central Texas were at risk of hunger. But now that number has also increased to 1 in 4. So we are definitely seeing that increase in people that are food insecure in our area.”
For Mares, working with nonprofits has always been a dream. Though her current role has quite the workload, she insists it is some of the most rewarding work she could have ever hoped for.
“I hadn’t quite anticipated that taking this position with the food bank would put me in the middle of a pandemic supporting the essential service of feeding our community,” says Mares. “But I am so glad it did. I am grateful for every member of the Central Texas Food Bank team, our volunteers and our donors who make it possible to do this good work.”
How to Get Involved
Mares supplied various resources for how to get involved with the fight against hunger. Whether through volunteer work or donations, there are plenty of options.
To volunteer, visit centraltexasfoodbank.org, then click the orange “Volunteer” button. Select the type of volunteering you’re interested in to see the full schedule. Create an account and then register for a volunteer spot. The site also has a new option to start a virtual food drive. Raising one dollar creates four free meals for the community.
“That is one of my favorite things about living in Austin,” says Mares. “There are a plethora of nonprofits no matter what speaks to your heart. There are really niche organizations that you can find and get plugged in from there. Austin is such an engaged community. And at the food bank we have just been overwhelmed by the response from the community.”
How to Get Help
On the other side of the spectrum, if you or someone you know is experiencing food insecurity, Mares has provided several different resources that will help.
“Go to centraltexasfoodbank.org and click on ‘Find Food Now.’ Once you find the distribution site nearest you, please call them to confirm their hours of operation since details are subject to change,” says Mares. “If you need help finding a food pantry or applying for SNAP or other benefits, please call our toll-free hotline: 1.855.366.3401.”
People in need can also dial 211, another free option that will connect you to a variety of resources.
“Please don’t hesitate to ask for help if you need it,” Mares insists. “You deserve to have the food you need to survive and thrive. There are people out there who desperately want to help you and your family get the help you need. Especially at the Central Texas Food Bank. That’s why we exist. To make it as easy as possible for our hungry neighbors to access the food you need.”