Food, hope handed out at mega food distribution



First Baptist Church Jourdanton’s Food Pantry Director Rene Walker holds up two thumbs to show she’s ready to hand out food at the San Antonio Food Bank’s mega distribution event on Saturday, April 18. SAM FOWLER | PLEASANTON EXPRESS

First Baptist Church Jourdanton’s Food Pantry Director Rene Walker holds up two thumbs to show she’s ready to hand out food at the San Antonio Food Bank’s mega distribution event on Saturday, April 18. SAM FOWLER | PLEASANTON EXPRESS

Hundreds of cars lined up for two-plus miles in Jourdanton to receive much-needed food during the San Antonio Food Bank’s mega distribution event held at the Atascosa County Courthouse on Saturday, April 18.

The event fed 500 preregistered families who lined up as early as 2 a.m. for food desperately needed due to the COVID-19 crisis. The San Antonio Food Bank brought in 33 pallets worth of food, weighing a total of 39,567 pounds.

“This whole effort came about because of the county stepping up, Judge Hurley and his staff,” said Mario Obledo, Jr., Chief of Government and Public Affairs at the San Antonio Food Bank. “We’ve worked with them on taking the lead for this food distribution here in Jourdanton and to cover Atascosa County. So, we really have to thank Judge Hurley for stepping up.”

Maryann Balderas Castro, Pleasanton, arrived at 8:30 a.m. and received food at 11:44 a.m. “I am out of work currently due to my health,” said Balderas, a metastatic breast cancer survivor who is dealing with the return of cancer in her spine and shoulder. “This food is a blessing right now.” She stated that online registration was easy and she would definitely return for another food distribution if offered. “All I ask is for citizens to please not cut in line as they did to me on that day!”

Mario Obledo Jr., Chief of Government and Public Affairs for San Antonio Food Bank, and Atascosa County Judge Bob Hurley

Mario Obledo Jr., Chief of Government and Public Affairs for San Antonio Food Bank, and Atascosa County Judge Bob Hurley

The process of distributing that 19 tons of food was made easier with roughly 65 volunteers from the area and assistance from the Atascosa County Sheriff’s Office, Atascosa County Constables

Mike Mares (Pct. 1), Cregg Thompson (Pct. 3) and Bill Meadows (Pct. 4), and Jourdanton Police Chief Eric Kaiser and officers.

“All of these [agencies] have extended personnel to help us with this,” said Maj. Matthew Miller with the Atascosa County Sheriff’s Office. “On our end, [it’s] security, the logistics of parking, traffic flow. We’re at the courthouse and the traffic is going all the way back to Ernst Rd. So, we definitely needed more hands and we’re blessed as a community to have these leaders step up and provide for the citizens of Atascosa County.”

Three volunteers sort boxes of food while covered with safety masks and gloves. SAM FOWLER | PLEASANTON EXPRESS

Three volunteers sort boxes of food while covered with safety masks and gloves. SAM FOWLER | PLEASANTON EXPRESS

That made the job much easier for the Food Bank when it came to the process of delivering the food to those lined up.

“It makes it a lot easier,” Obledo said. “In our 16-county footprint in Southwest Texas, we partner with governments in a variety of ways. In our rural counties, there are several that we partner with for our daily Disaster of Poverty for them to help us with food distributions. In this case, this is going to be able to help out Atascosa County in a much bigger and better way for us.”

The San Antonio Food Bank initially reached out to the Food Pantry at Jourdanton’s First Baptist Church. Rene Walker, Food Pantry Director and Church Secretary, was on board with the idea. However, the church could not undertake a food distribution project of this size.

“[The Food Bank] had contacted us about three weeks ago and wanted us to do this kind of setup,” Walker said. “I said, ‘Gosh, I have like nine volunteers.’ We’re a small congregation.”

Jourdanton Chief of Police Eric Kaiser speaks to someone at a distance.

Jourdanton Chief of Police Eric Kaiser speaks to someone at a distance.

Walker, adding that her congregation was still ready to help, directed the Food Bank to Judge Hurley’s office.

“The judge can coordinate with other churches and other agencies and the police department. [Judge Hurley] can make it happen,” Walker told the Food Bank.

So, the pieces were put in place and the event gained traction. First Baptist-Jourdanton helped set up the easy and fast registration and was a huge volunteer presence the day of the food distribution. Court Coordinator Robbie Denson and Guardianship Coordinator Rusty Prasifka worked with the Food Bank to set up the logistics of the event, including holding it at the Atascosa County Courthouse. The central location of the courthouse made it the prime spot for the mega distribution, Judge Hurley said.

“[Mario Obledo, Jr.] told me they may want to make this a regular thing,” Hurley continued. “I told them they’re more than welcome to come do it any time they want. It benefits the county. I’m very excited about it.”

Pleasanton women’s soccer Head Coach Brant Bird loads food into the back of a car.

Pleasanton women’s soccer Head Coach Brant Bird loads food into the back of a car.

The community rallying to help each other during trying times was a sight to see for all those taking part in the event. Although, nobody expected anything less from Atascosa County.

“I’ve said before that crisis brings out the best and worst in people. But I think, here in Jourdanton and Atascosa County in general, you’re seeing the best in people time and time again,” said Jourdanton Chief of Police Eric Kaiser. “You’re seeing lots of different organizations and individuals step up to help wherever it’s needed without having to ask twice. That’s really inspiring to us who work as first responders.”

Seeing the community step up for its neighbors again is a reason many hope this event continues during the pandemic.

“I’d like to see it as long as we need it, as long as we can get the people we need to do it,” Walker said. “Once a month would be nice.”

An assembly line of volunteers sort through food before distribution begins. SAM FOWLER | PLEASANTON EXPRESS

An assembly line of volunteers sort through food before distribution begins. SAM FOWLER | PLEASANTON EXPRESS

A plan for a second mega distribution is in the works for the month of May, but no official date has been released.

Please see more photos on 5A.

Two volunteers load produce into a car. SAM FOWLER | PLEASANTON EXPRESS

Two volunteers load produce into a car. SAM FOWLER | PLEASANTON EXPRESS

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