Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

'Demand has just gone up and up': Food banks struggle to keep up post-pandemic

So far, The Hays County Food Bank has already distributed more in 2024 than this time last year, which was a year of record for the organization.
Michael Minasi
KUT News
The Hays County Food Bank has distributed more groceries in 2024 than at this time last year.

Lee esta historia en español

Drivers line up down the street to grab groceries from a small, white house in the Dunbar neighborhood of San Marcos.

For some time, the renovated house worked for the Hays County Food Bank, but as more and more people rely on it, the food bank has outgrown the space. Executive Director Lisa Young said overhanging tree branches and telephone wires also don't allow trucks to bring in larger quantities of food.

Now, the food bank is moving to a bigger building.

“It's going to be transformational for us,” Young said.

The food bank distributes leftover produce, meat and baked goods from local grocery stores. Young said the volume of food the bank sends out has gone up every year since the pandemic.

“In 2023, we distributed 1.3 million pounds of food through this little carport here,” she said. “That was a miracle.”

The food bank has already distributed about 26% more food in 2024 than this time last year.

“We're expecting this year to be the highest we've ever had," she said. "The demand has just gone up and up.”

A region-wide problem

Sari Vatske, president and CEO of the Central Texas Food Bank, said more than 16% of adults and 25% of children in the region are food insecure. This means they don't know if they will have enough food or where their next meal will come from.

At the end of 2023, food insecurity in the 21 counties the Central Texas Food Bank serves — including Travis, Hays and Williamson — was at 14%. That's slightly higher than the national average, according to Vatske.

The phasing out of COVID-19 assistance, like stimulus checks and temporary food stamp programs, has increased reliance on food banks. Inflation has added to the strain.

The USDA reports the cost of groceries should go up by about 2.5% each year, with some items like beef and eggs getting even more expensive annually. But prices increased overall by 11.4% in 2022 and another 5% in 2023.

“We are surpassing the number of individuals that we're serving now, beyond at the height of the pandemic,” Vatske said.

A survey conducted by her organization in 2023 showed 36% of respondents had to choose between paying for food or for rent.

"Families are facing difficult decisions with their overall household budget," she said.

Front and center

The Hays County Food Bank closed on its new building in May. The spot may be familiar to many: the former Hays Co. Bar-B-Que on I-35.

After remodeling, the new location is set to open early next year. Young said it was more convenient for the food bank to move into a place already set up for food storage and distribution.

The new location will include a community garden, an outdoor area with picnic tables and a "grocery store." Instead of getting a pre-made box of food, people will be able to pick their own items.

The new location will include a community garden, an outdoor area with picnic tables and a "grocery store."

"The dignity of that is going to be great — people making their own choices," Young said. "That will also reduce food waste because people will be picking things that they're going to use."

Though a larger space is needed, Young said she’s afraid the move might change how people access the organization's services, with mobility being one of her biggest concerns.

“We're always hearing [about] people who can't get to jobs, can't get to us, can't get to whatever they're trying to do,” she said. “The spot we're in now is in a neighborhood, so for people who are on foot or maybe a bicycle, it is probably easier to reach us here than going onto the 35 service road.”

Young said the food bank is looking to launch a fleet of vans to deliver groceries throughout the county.

"We'll be able to reach not just people right around here in San Marcos, but we're also looking to take those vans into Buda and Kyle," she said.

Young said she hopes the visibility of the location from the highway will bring in more volunteers and donations.

“I think it will put us in front of people’s minds,” she said. “Right on 35, between Austin and San Antonio, is a great spot for most people to see us.”

Maya Fawaz is KUT's Hays County reporter. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on Twitter @mayagfawaz.
Related Content