The East Texas Food Bank celebrated its 25th anniversary with an awards dinner on Thursday night.
“It’s a really important milestone,” Cullinane said. “We’re blessed to have strong leadership. The board’s always been very passionate. It’s also a very generous community who cares about the underserved.”
The East Texas Food Bank has grown to serve 26 counties in East Texas — a territory of almost 20,000 square miles. The organization holds a place in the top quarter of the more than 200 Feeding America Network food banks in food distribution, according to a news release from the organization.
Brookshire Grocery Co., Cathy Schreiber and the Roosth family were awarded for their 25 years of support to the organization. The organization boasts about 650 volunteers a month, Cullinane said.
The food bank began as community members responded to a need they saw: While there were agencies in the area that supplied food to hungry residents, those agencies needed access to more food to give out.
They began with 17 agencies. By 1989, the organization had provided more than 1 million meals in East Texas. By 1990, the food bank was distributing to 100 nonprofit organizations.
Unfortunately, the need is still on the rise, said Dennis Cullinane, executive director.
By 2000, the food bank was partnered with more than 200 partners and distributed more than 4 million meals that year alone.
In 2010, Feeding America released a study that showed the East Texas Food Bank was feeding more than 183,000 people annually.
The food bank supplies food to pantries all across the area, as well as provides directly to their own programs, like the award-winning BackPack program, which provides meals during the weekend to children who qualify for free meals during the school year. Throughout the years, the organization also has joined national food drives and created its own.
The organization also is known throughout the state for its innovative programs. Of particular note is its focus on fresh produce, some of which comes from its partnership to cultivate a community garden
“We know that dietary health is a big issue among low-income families,” said Celia Cole, CEO of the Texas Food Bank Network. “Thirty-five percent of their food is fresh produce. That’s astounding.”
Instead of resting on its laurels, the food bank is still moving forward. Cullinane explained a new strategy to reach even more people in the outlying counties who don’t receive as much food as better-covered counties. It would call for three times the current capacity.
“I believe we can do it,” he said.