Client Empowerment in Texas Food Banks

Angela Baucom MSSW '15Angela Baucom, MSSW ’15, serves as the VISTA Program Manager for Feeding Texas. There she supports the statewide effort to evolve the practice of food banking around three main areas: economic opportunity creation, health partnerships and story banking. Founded in 1986, Feeding Texas established itself as a network for communication and collaboration among food banks in Texas. It was three years ago that the network began working with VISTA, which pairs volunteers with organizations working to alleviate poverty. Angela joined Feeding Texas a year and a half ago and works at the system level to incorporate their work into strategic plans for the 21 food banks in the network. To prepare for this work, Angela opted for the administrative track in the School of Social Work’s MSSW program. She also enrolled in the Portfolio Program in Nonprofit Studies at the RGK Center, which she says was instrumental in her gaining the necessary experience for her current role. While overseeing daily operations at Feeding Texas, Angela keeps the big picture in sight while incorporating the human side of the work into an effectively run program to ensure the government grant is serving the people.

Economic opportunity creation and food banks

“Food banks have been really good at feeding people,” says Angela, “and–in recent years–are also working on addressing the causal factors”. Starting with the goal of ‘shortening the line’, Feeding Texas’ approach begins with looking at financial insecurity, which is ultimately what leads to food insecurity. The focus then becomes helping clients determine what they need to get and sustain a job. One approach that food banks have taken is to bring professional chefs into their kitchens to teach classes to clients interested in developing the skills necessary for work in the food industry. Other food banks are offering resume review assistance and matching clients with job postings. There are also scholarship pantries, which provide dual support in the form of food assistance and education services to clients through partnerships with United Way, Goodwill, community colleges and universities.

Food and nutrition in Texas food banks

Another key facet of Angela’s work is supporting food banks in forging health partnerships by providing the people power necessary to initiate and grow them. One such partnership under her colleague’s direction is a Texas Health and Human Services initiative to provide nutrition education to recipients of SNAP and WIC benefits. There is a push at some of the larger food banks to obtain more fresh produce in order to increase the proportion of fruits and vegetables being sent home with clients. One food bank in the Rio Grande valley has a community garden on site. The South Plains Food Bank has a farm on site, as does the food bank in San Antonio. Feeding America’s Nudges program encourages innovative pantry design that utilizes recipes, demos and samples to promote healthy and enjoyable cooking and eating.

Story banking for a public voice

The third component of Feeding Texas’ work is their Storybanking Initiative. “Client banking isn’t just all talk,” says Angela. So far, 1,500 stories have been collected from clients of food banks around Texas, all centered in food insecurity. The stories revolve around things that have impacted clients’ lives personally and financially. There is heartbreak as well as resilience. The collection helps Feeding Texas convey the importance of their work to policy makers and other decision makers, connecting the system level with the individual level.

The inspiration behind the work

Angela grew up in a household that was half Southern Baptist and half Greek. In both cultures, there is a deep underlying need to feed those around you and many family events center around food. Angela began her career as a teacher and, continually driven by a desire to nourish her community, decided to transition to working in the food system. She is motivated by client empowerment work, which she sees as providing people in need with a hand-up rather than a hand-out. She looks forward to continuing this work by creating pathways that allow food banks to see client empowerment as part of the work they’re doing in their community.

May 30, 2017