History junior Vincent Marchini scanned the web browser on his phone at noon on Oct. 7, ticking off grocery items on a list.
It was mere hours before he was scheduled to pick them up at the General’s Store at Texas A&M University-San Antonio.
He sat under the shade of a hanging tarp outside the Science and Technology Building, wearing the blue vest of the temporary Health and Safety Assistant position the university hired him for just weeks ago.
Marchini never felt the need to use food assistance services before the pandemic, but since the beginning of October, he now frequents the General’s Store, visiting every Wednesday afternoon.
As the country awaits economic aid amid the coronavirus pandemic, students like Marchini seek out relief through free services such as the General’s Store, which is a distribution center for the San Antonio Food Bank.
According to Chloe Martinez, who manages the General’s Store, “last year we reported having a total of 765 customers and distributing 5,400 pounds of food.”
Since March 24, when the General’s Store began operating exclusively as a curbside service, Martinez said the General’s Store had 452 customers and distributed 10,660 pounds of food, nearly double the amount from 2019.
“The staff makes sure you don’t leave hungry,” Marchini said with a chuckle in an interview Oct. 7, expressing his joy in being able to provide more meals for himself and his 7-year-old son.
Though he feels his situation could be far worse, Marchini said being able to bring home various meals for his son at no cost is what keeps him coming back.
“(The General’s Store) has a large variety of stuff. Cereal cups, ramen packets — my son’s favorite is mac-n-cheese,” he said.
Like many students, Marchini continues to battle financial insecurity from the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, voicing his anxieties over affording to put food on the table every week.
The price of a college education during these times, Marchini said, leaves little room for any luxury, even when it comes to food.
Students, faculty, staff and Bexar County residents in need of food assistance are encouraged to seek free aid from the food pantry.
However, services like the General’s Store and other free food pantries under the San Antonio Food Bank are in jeopardy, as volunteers and food donations aren’t covering the recent surge of hungry families in Bexar County.
“This is the largest crisis our organization has ever seen,” said Eric Cooper, president of the San Antonio Food Bank, in an interview Sept. 1. “I worry as this crisis goes on, the sustainability of many of our programs will start to diminish while the need is still there.”
In a statement by mayor Ron Nirenberg, more than 150,000 San Antonio residents have filed for unemployment since the coronavirus first hit in March.
Subsequently, the San Antonio Food Bank reports the need for food assistance in the 16 counties it serves has more than doubled since the start of the pandemic from 60,000 clients in 2018.
Cooper said along with the suspension of unemployment assistance, the federal government also halted financial aid to such programs as the San Antonio Food Bank, which now depends solely on private and individual donations.
Worries of another wave of COVID-19 cases in San Antonio may bring another donation and volunteer shortage, as reported by the San Antonio Express-News in early July, when the food bank’s volunteer shortage nearly halted distribution events entirely.
Though the Food Bank won’t close its doors anytime soon, Cooper hopes the organization will continue to receive support moving forward.
According to Cooper, “the food bank is always in need of four things: food, time, money and voice.”
Donations of non-perishable canned goods and other highly sought after items can be donated through any food drive or dropped off at the San Antonio Food Bank at 5200 Enrique M. Barrera Parkway.
With the San Antonio Food Bank feeding more than 120,000 people this year, there are many opportunities for prospective volunteers, whether it be distributing food at a nearby distribution center, such as the General’s Store, or sorting items at the warehouse.
Monetary donations are also welcome from those unable to offer their time or food donations to the Food Bank.
Finally, for individuals unable to offer donations or time, Cooper said they can also “help by using the power of social media to spread the word about our fight against hunger.”
According to Cooper, inspiring others to act when so many continue to fight hunger is perhaps the most powerful thing a person could do.
For more information on how to help, visit safoodbank.org or call 210-431-8326.