When was the pantry founded?
It was started in 1972 as a special program to serve families for Thanksgiving, and then it evolved into a pantry. Then two years ago we raised over $150,000 and expanded the pantry, as well as converting it into a “choice” pantry, where people can come in and choose their food. They come in, are interviewed, and then a personal shopper walks them through the pantry, helping them make their choices. It’s a much better way of treating people. Before, we just handed them a bag of groceries and said “Do what you can with it.” Sometimes it wasn’t really what their family liked. So now we don’t have the problem of people taking food home and throwing it away, because they’ve chosen it themselves.
How long have you been involved in the pantry?
About 20 years. All my life, I’ve been involved as a volunteer in many, many different organizations. I saw an ad in my church bulletin about helping out at a food pantry, so I started out helping here part-time. And I just stayed. Six years ago, I became the director.
To be a choice pantry, we knew we needed more room. We were in half of a metal building, and the other half was used by the church to store junk. Sometimes the fumes from the lawn mower they stowed there was just overwhelming. So we put out some feelers for donations, and it only took us a few months to raise the money, mostly from individuals. It just came pouring in. Now we’ve evolved to having 125 volunteers.
Where do the volunteers come from?
Mostly the Spring Branch area. We have a relationship with about nine churches and community organizations who have heard about us. I think the reason people volunteer is because they can meet the poor face to face—they’re interacting with them, they’re walking around with them.
In 2015 the East Spring Branch Food Pantry received the Bandini Award for best food pantry in Houston from the Houston Food Bank. How did that feel?
I was told that it was given to us because we’re flexible enough to adjust to the needs of the community. We’re open one evening a week and on Saturdays for two hours to accomodate the working poor. We also have a cooking and nutrition class once a month for people. We listen to the community and try our best to meet their needs. For example, if people have to ride the bus here, we give them a card for four free rides.
What are your next goals for the food pantry?
We want to be able to give even more food to people; our goal is to give people at least a week’s worth of food when they come in. And we’d like to ultimately help people transition to where they don’t need to come to a food pantry, where they can manage their lives by themselves. Right now, people can come to our pantry nine times in six months. And when they reach their tenth time, we give them a list of other pantries in the area where they can go.
If you’d like to donate food or money to the food pantry, please call Mary White at 281-799-6752. The pantry also needs people with pickup trucks who can help pick up food at the Houston Food Bank once a month.
East Spring Branch Food Pantry. 7901 Westview Drive. 713-464-0852. eastspringbranchfoodpantry.com