John Turner

An increasing number of struggling families who face unemployment or low wages depend on food supplies from local food banks, resulting in challenges for these food banks to supply a sufficient quantity of nutritional foods to food pantries across the country. The increased demand is pushing suppliers to focus on both what they are feeding people and how many people they are feeding.

John Turner, senior director of marketing and branding for the Capital Area Food Bank of Texas, said both the cost of living in Austin and static incomes have had a noticeable effect on the quantity of food being distributed in the past few years.

“We have been working at an operational capacity at this facility,” Turner said. “In the last four years or so, we’re serving about 50 percent more people than before, and over the last three years, on average, we’ve distributed about 2 million pounds of food every single month just out of this food bank. Basically the entire contents of our warehouse has been replaced every single month for three years.”

Turner said the facility is taking measures to ensure nutritious foods are prioritized over those with high sodium and sugar contents. He said they have a team of registered nutritionists on staff and a comprehensive program called the Choosing Healthy Options Program to promote the acquisition, distribution and consumption of healthier food.

Terri Romine-Ortega, U.S. Department of Agriculture spokeswoman, said the focus of food distribution, especially among food banks, is shifting from giving anybody what they can to providing nutritious and quality foods for low-income families.

“A food bank in Northern California received a massive amount of Coke and it suddenly hit them that they were distributing very unhealthy food to people who need to have nutritious food coming in,” Romine-Ortega said. “These food banks now have to think about the decisions they are making and whether or not they restrict the donations they get to only nutritious quality foods or if they just feed people because they are hungry.”

Marsha Bukofzer, spokeswoman for the Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma, said the food bank does not turn anything away, so it often ends up with less nutritious foods — sometimes from large donors including Pepsi. If the food bank receives candies or sodas of any type, instead of turning them away, it sorts them and distributes them to food pantries, Bukofzer said.

“A lot of food is donated and a lot of it can be from different companies that for one reason or another are not able to use the food,” Romine-Ortega said. “A truck that spills over on the highway can’t use any of that food even though 90 percent of it is OK. We may get a lot of sodas and Gatorades, but our agencies are able to use that in a lot of different ways.”

Bukofzer said the Eastern Oklahoma food bank has a purchased-food program in which 25 percent of its purchased-food budget goes to produce. The food bank relies heavily on donations, but it is making the effort to have a healthier mix of foods, Bukofzer said.

Irving Calderon performed a hip-hop dance during the Mr. McCombs pageant Friday night in the SAC. The pageant, which benefited Capital Area Food Bank, collected over 3,500 canned-goods and raised awareness of hunger in Texas.

Photo Credit: Skylar Isdale | Daily Texan Staff

A male beauty pageant benefiting the Capital Area Food Bank of Texas featured participants who danced, sang, rapped, wrestled and even proposed as they competed for the title of “Mr. McCombs.”

The pageant, put on by the McCombs School of Business Friday night at the Student Activities Center, was a fundraiser for the Capital Area Food Bank. Admission costs were either $3 or 3 cans of food. According to the pageants’ emcees, more than 3,500 cans had been collected through donations and canned-good drives held by student organizations within the business school.

Allison Gross, marketing junior and pageant organizer, said the event was structured so that each participant represented a different business organization.

“We wanted to host an event that was fun and encouraged camaraderie across the entire business school,” she said.

Gross said the McCombs School likes featuring the event because it is both entertaining and meaningful.

“We love putting on this event. It’s great to host something fun that still gives back to the community,” she said. “It was the perfect opportunity to give back to the Capital Area Food Bank.”

John Turner, senior director of marketing and branding at the Capital Area Food Bank, said he thinks the efforts of McCombs are going a long way to help Texans in need of food.

“Events like ‘Mr. McCombs’ have a great impact and it’s a fun way to raise support and awareness,” Turner said. “Every little thing counts and helps us put food on hungry peoples’ tables.”

Turner said hunger is a significant issue for Texans and encourages any events that alleviate the problem.

“With the economy the way it is, people need assistance purchasing food more than ever. One-in-five Central Texans are at risk of hunger,” Turner said. “That’s why events like this are so helpful and make such a big difference.”

The pageant featured a Q&A segment and a talent portion where contestants displayed various skills, such as dancing and comedy.

Marketing senior Jordan Ripley was named “Mr. McCombs.” Ripley’s talent portion involved a comedic analysis of each business association.

As he wore a crown to commemorate his victory, Ripley said he experienced monarchism for the first time.

“It feels good to win,” Ripley said. “I’ve never been a king before since I’ve lived in a democracy all my life, so it’s nice.”

However, a surprise wedding proposal is what stole the show. During the talent portion, economics senior Jonathan Coneby surprised his girlfriend by getting on one knee and proposing. When she said yes, the crowd cheered in celebration.

“I feel great. It was a long time coming,” Coneby said. “The good thing is I knew she was going to say yes.”

Printed on Monday, February 13, 2012 as: Male beauty pageant benefits food bank

Volunteer Veronica Martinez sorts packages of pasta into a specially marked bin so that they can be properly divided and packaged at the Food Capitol Area Food Bank of Texas on Friday afternoon. By distributing food from grocery stores that otherwise would be unsellable, food reclamation organizations help families on fixed incomes to have more nutritional options.

Photo Credit: Ryan Edwards | Daily Texan Staff

Austin grocers and non-profits work together to bring food that stores can’t sell to people who need it.

Through reclaimed food efforts, they salvage goods that would otherwise be thrown out to give to hungry people. In Texas, 17.1 percent of people live below the poverty line — higher than the national average of 14.3 percent, according to information from the U.S. Census Bureau.

“For everything that goes into food productivity in this country, there shouldn’t be hungry people,” said John Turner, spokesman for the Capital Area Food Bank of Texas.

At the food bank, food that is past its sell-by date or that is too damaged is discarded, and the rest is sorted.

When a family member loses a job and their food budget goes down, the nutritional quality of the food that family eats also goes down too, Turner said.

“If you’re on a fixed income, things that tend to get squeezed first are food budgets,” Turner said.

Of the 25.3 million pounds of the food the Capital Area Food Bank distributes, 17 percent is reclaimed from grocers — it can be fruit that has ripened too much for the shelves, or packed food that has been damaged or is otherwise unfit for sale.

Turner said when a store orders too much food, the food bank benefits by receiving the surplus as a donation.

Trucks that go out to deliver food to community pantries or directly to hungry people pick up the available food from large grocers such as H-E-B, Randalls, Walmart and Target on their way, Turner said.

The situation benefits everyone, because the food that would otherwise be sent to a landfill goes to hungry people who really need it, Turner said. The grocers would otherwise have to pay disposal costs for that food.

He said about 18 percent of the people who receive food from the food bank are homeless, but the rest are usually working families experiencing hardship.

“Their next line of defense is to come out and ask for help, and that’s hard for them,” said Turner.

Leslie Sweet, spokeswoman for H-E-B of Central Texas, said the stores mark goods with sell-by dates that are earlier than the actual shelf life of some perishable foods, which creates a broader window for passing the food along to the food bank.

For example, the stores only sell ground beef the day it’s been ground, so at the end of the day it’s all frozen and is donated to the Food Bank, Sweet said.

She said H-E-B has a history of donating food to the hungry, but in the last decade the stores have been able to increase the amount of protein items it donates to food banks by freezing more and by increasing standards about the handling of the food so that the cold chain remains intact throughout the transfer process.

To reduce waste, Whole Foods Market spokeswoman Rebecca Scofield said they recover as much as possible can within the store. Often, bruised fruit can still be juiced and bread products can be used in deli recipes.

Then, local charities, including The Salvation Army and the Capital Area Food Bank, collect food unfit to sell, and what is left is composted instead of going to a landfill.

“Surely some food goes to waste, and we’re working hard to get to zero waste, so every possible scrap does get composted,” she said.

At Wheatsville Food Co-op, food unfit for sale from each department is made available to store employees, then daily and weekly pickups from various organizations distribute the food to the community, said spokeswoman Raquel Dadomo. Whatever is left over is then composted.

“They’re taking away the things that are a little bruised, not in salable condition, but still perfectly good to eat,” Dadomo said. “We’re able to help our employees and we’re also able to help people in low-income situations who may not have access to fresh fruits and vegetables.”

Printed on Monday, August 8th, 2011 as: Helping the Hungry

Roller coasters, cornucopias and giant armadillos constructed out of 19,000 cans of food to feed the hungry line the halls of Barton Creek Square Mall.

The monuments are part of the third annual Canstruction event benefiting the Capital Area Food Bank. Teams from around the Austin area had eight hours to build large-scale structures out of aluminum cans Saturday.

The Society of Design Administration organized the nationwide event. Shoppers will vote on the designs all week, and the winner will be announced on Nov. 22. Food used will be donated to the food bank.

In the last fiscal year, the Capital Area Food Bank received 25 million pounds of food, said John Turner, food bank spokesman.

“We just came off the back of a record year,” he said. “We expect our program to keep growing. The need for our services is really steady.”

The food bank provides food to 21 counties in Central Texas, and only 18 percent of their 48,000 weekly clients are homeless, he said. Most are working class families who have been laid off or are struggling because of the sluggish economy, he said.

“There are an awful lot of people who are literally struggling to put food on the table,” he said. “We really appreciate all the help we can get.”

STG Design, an interior design and architecture firm, signed up for Canstruction as soon as the firm heard about it, said Ashley Hargrove, the firm’s marketing representative. The STG Design team constructed “The Little Engine That Could” with the theme of “I Think I CAN” using chicken soup, tuna, chili, beans and fruit to enhance the nutritional value of their contribution, she said.

“‘The Little Engine that Could’ taught us all at a young age to conquer mountains for the selfless benefit of others,“ she said. “As adults, we tend to forget how much of a difference we can make with just the smallest steps.”

Encotech Engineering and The Beck Group raised $6,000 to donate to Capital Area Food Bank in the form of a check, as well as $3,000 worth of canned food. The Encotech team started working on a test build three weeks ago and built their can structure between 8 and 11 a.m. on Saturday, said Katie Harris, marketing coordinator at Encotech Engineering.

The Encotech team built an armadillo mostly from pinto beans. The project also included 2,000 cans of corn, green beans, beets and diced tomatoes. The armadillo was titled “Keep Austin Fed” to draw attention to the community that the food will be donated to, Harris said.

“The idea behind it was that when we donate canned foods, we don’t always remember that we’re donating to Austinites,” she said. “We’re not just feeding faceless people; we’re feeding people in our community.”