Turkey box policy intended inclusion

Guest Column

Hays County Food Bank (HCFB) wants to address complaints made by Stone Brook Seniors Community Property Manager, Megan Walker, regarding our annual holiday meal box program. In a recent letter to the editor, Ms. Walker claimed that HCFB’s distribution policy was unfair to seniors and individuals with disabilities because it discriminated against those without computer skills, transportation, and mobility. Her complaint was based on two recent changes: 1) HCFB asked households, rather than referring entities, to take responsibility for the signup process and 2) HCFB was unable to arrange the transportation of boxes to Stone Brook, as we did in previous years. HCFB made these changes to assist ALL low income households in Hays County. That’s 1 in 7 residents!

HCFB wanted our 2017 holiday meal box program to be more fair and inclusive. Previously, we ONLY worked with social service agencies for registration. This presented several problems. Duplication was common, as many agencies signed up all participants, regardless of need or whether they were already registered. Additionally, those households not already receiving social services (6.4 percent of 2017 participants) were not provided with the opportunity to receive a box. Our new system allowed ANYONE in need to receive help through an online signup portal, accessible on our website (smartphone friendly). We also provided several phone (2x per week) and in-person signup times. If phone lines were busy, an individual could leave a message and their call was returned. We created these opportunities to INCLUDE clients without access to necessary technology, not alienate them.

HCFB also worked to extend reach to underserved parts of the county. We communicated through traditional and social media outlets and requested more community entities to circulate flyers about registration. We received referrals from 75+ entities (ex: social service agencies, churches, housing communities), representing a wide variety of clients — parents of toddlers to seniors living alone. One unfortunate side effect of working with so many entities is that we could no longer deliver meal boxes directly (a service previously provided to Stone Brook). HCFB is a small nonprofit with a staff of 9. Our holiday meal box program is held in addition to regular weekly operations — daily food rescue pick-ups, 7 public food distributions, 4 nutrition education classes, and daily food order preparation for 20+ partner agencies. Although volunteers and donors (like Little Guys Movers) banded together to make our 8 holiday meal box distributions a success, it was beyond our organization’s capacity to make deliveries to all referring agencies (ex: Stone Brook). In the interest of fairness, delivering to one referring entity would have meant providing the SAME accommodation for all. To put this in perspective, we worked with 10+ referring agencies who serve seniors (Creekside Villas - Buda, CTMC Hospice, Deer Creek Nursing Home - Wimberley, La Vista Retirement Community, Mariposa Apartments, Meals on Wheels - Buda, Meals on Wheels - San Marcos, San Marcos Housing Authority - Springtown Villa, Senior Citizen Center - Community Action of Central Texas, and Sunrise Village Retirement Community). Stone Brook had 56 residents register, which was only 2.6 percent of total registrations.

At our holiday meal box distributions, HCFB made reasonable accommodations for seniors, individuals with disabilities, and households with transportation issues by allowing a friend, neighbor, or caregiver to stand in line and pick up a box for them. We allowed pick up for another person (limit 2 boxes per person) IF the person picking up had: 1) a ticket confirmation or 2) a handwritten note from the registrant providing permission to pick up on their behalf. This ensured that an unknown party could not pick-up a person’s box WITHOUT their consent (unfortunately, this does happen). The procedure did not appear to impact most Stone Brook residents, as all but 8 households were able to successfully retrieve their boxes.

HCFB values the input of the community. Although it does not always result in programmatic changes, we take all complaints seriously and discuss them internally. Ms. Walker first filed a phone complaint, had changes to the holiday meal box program explained to her by HCFB staff, and was welcomed to file a more formal complaint with the HCFB Board of Directors. The formal complaint she filed was replied to by HCFB Board President within a day. Our Board President communicated that recent program changes were deemed successful by the Board and that Stone Brook’s complaint would be discussed by the CEO and Executive Committee. She did not indicate that changes would be made to the program or she would respond again. Ms. Walker also contacted Commissioners Mark Jones and Debbie Ingalsbe, who both reached out to the food bank inquiring about procedural changes. They spoke with HCFB independently, discussed new policies, and had no further questions.

HCFB is proud that we do not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, gender, gender expression, age, national origin, disability, marital status, sexual orientation, or military status, in any of its operations. We are committed to providing the SAME inclusive and welcoming environment for all clients without favoring one subsect of the low-income population. Everyone deserves to eat, and the food bank uses its resources to ensure that those in need have adequate access to sufficient nutritious food.

Denise Blok is Chief Executive Officer for the Hays County Food Bank

San Marcos Daily Record

(512) 392-2458
P.O. Box 1109, San Marcos, TX 78666