Everything is bigger in Texas, right? When you’re talking about land that goes on forever or the tip-to-tip measurement of a steer’s horns, more and bigger are usually better. That isn’t always the case, though, when we talk about people and the fact that one out of every eight Americans struggles to get enough to eat every day. In Houston, Texas, that’s a lot of people. Of course, we don’t talk about having hungry people: currently, the correct terminology is “food-insecure households.”
Slogans aside, everything really is big in Texas, and nowhere is that more evident than in Texans, themselves, especially Houstonians. When Katrina hit neighboring Louisiana, Houston stepped up and opened its doors. When any sort of disaster strikes, natural or otherwise, Houstonians are there. So, it should not come as much of a surprise that the largest and most highly rated food bank in the U.S. is the Houston Food Bank. Founded in 1982, the Houston Food Bank, through its network of 600 community partners, provides food to more than 800,000 people every year, with a goal of reaching 1 million by the end of 2018.
There is a difference between a food bank and the actual locations where people receive assistance, such as food pantries, soup kitchens, senior centers and programs like backpack buddies. A food bank is more of a warehouse, like the over 300,000 square-foot facilities located on the city’s east side. Acquiring this former Sysco distribution center, with its large coolers and accessible location allowed the organization to not only greatly improve its ability to get food in and out but also increased the amount of fresh produce and meats that it could store and distribute. Once again, it was those big Texas hearts that came through with the donations and funding to make the purchase of this facility, which has made such a difference the food bank’s mission to reach the hundreds of thousands of people in the 18 counties of southeast Texas that it serves.
Soup kitchens and programs to feed the hungry have been around for a long time. The concept of food banks, however, is relatively new. The problem is not that there isn’t enough food: it’s that we choose to throw it away rather than provide it to those who need it. Nearly 40% of the food in the U.S. is wasted. Some by individuals but a staggering amount by restaurants and retail establishments, like grocery stores. In the late 1960s, a retired businessman volunteering at a soup kitchen was confronted by a struggling mother who regularly dug through grocery store dumpsters looking for food to feed her family. She asked him why all of this perfectly good food couldn’t be stored or “banked” somewhere for people to pick up. That was the beginning of food banks, which now work with retailers all over the country.
Getting food and other necessities to nearly a million people each year requires a tremendous amount of organization and participation from volunteers. The Houston Food Bank has a top, 4-star rating from Charity Navigator. More than 96% of all funding it receives goes directly into services and programs.