Bread For All Food Pantry provided ninety-three neighbors with HEB grocery cards worth $100 at its distribution on January 4, 2021. All Together-ATX (sponsored by United Way of Greater Austin and Austin Community Foundation) and the City of Austin worked in tandem to give Austin City Lutherans a generous grant to support this program. This one-time program, limited to one gift card per household, supplemented the groceries that ninety-seven neighbors received on a crystal clear evening the first Monday of the new year. This distribution was one the largest since the early days of the pandemic in April when BFA served an average of 127 households each week.
On January 4th, more than forty BFA volunteers sorted food donations and bulk deliveries from the food bank, prepped food bags, and served neighbors. Even though the grocery card giveaway was not announced ahead of time (we didn’t want our serving capacity and capability overwhelmed), we knew it would be a busy evening, usually the case for the first Monday in the month at BFA.
A long socially-distanced line had formed, under a soon-to-set sun, by BFA’s start at 4:50 p.m. Pastor Ellen Williams and Steve Zwernemann, ACL’s treasurer and a member of Faith Lutheran, warmly welcomed neighbors in bilingual fashion at the registration table in English and Spanish. More than half of BFA’s neighbors are native Spanish speakers, and a handful are Arabic-speaking.
By dictate of our grant agreements, the registration process was somewhat tedious. Each gift-card recipient needed to sign a form. Longtime BFA volunteer Weldon Allison, a member of Shepherd of the Hills, faithfully provided each neighbor a newly sanitized pen by which to sign their form.
Multiple neighbors – all wearing masks, a BFA requirement – expressed gratitude and joy upon receiving their HEB card. In this pandemic era, we’ve all learned that a person’s smile consists of more than a mouth upturned – the eyes smile as well. Many neighbors’ eyes sparkled and a few glistened with tears. Facial masks failed to muffle the constant refrains of “Thank you” and “Gracias a Dios.”
At 7:15 p.m., night had fallen and the socially-distanced line was finally exhausted by BFA’s two masked table registrants with an assist from a similarly masked Weldon. For almost two and a half straight hours – without no break for Ellen or Steve – close to one-hundred neighbors, representing more than 400 family members, received encouragement, much needed food, and an HEB gift card.
A big thanks to every BFA volunteer who helped with the tasks that made this important distribution work as smoothly as it did. Longtime BFA lead volunteer Barb Tiedt, a member of Abiding Love, ordered bulk food from the food bank the previous week. For Monday’s distribution, volunteers carried out multiple tasks: picking up BFA’s order at the food bank, (the aforementioned) sorting and bagging of donated and bulk food, setting up for the registration process, entering data via computers, filling grocery carts inside with food, assisting neighbors outside to their cars with the grocery carts of food, staffing the parking lot to keep neighbors and volunteers safe, and – the evening’s final task – cleaning up and putting supplies away. The next day, yet another BFA volunteer arrived to take extra food to a nearby apartment complex inhabited by low-income individuals.
BFA has grown significantly as an operation, and we give God thanks that we’ve been able to distribute food in Christ’s name for more than seven years in SE Austin. BFA, serving children living in poverty, persons experiencing homelessness, the working poor, the disabled, and elderly persons living on minimal fixed incomes, has become an established ally and partner of schools and other non-profits in the area.
We believe that ACL received this grant – more than $10,000 – because the funding organizations recognize that we have well-established relationships in the SE Austin community with people most in need of pandemic relief efforts. The previous month, with another grant award, ACL and BFA carried out a successful rent assistance program.
Part of ACL’s present and future strategy is to expand BFA’s ministry scope. These two programs are bold steps in that direction, a reflection of ACL’s motto and guiding light, “More, Better, Together.”
- Rev. Tim Anderson, Director of Community Development for Austin City Lutherans