Feeding Neighbors, Building Community: East Texas Food Bank Announces New Strategic Plan

The East Texas Food Bank, East Texas’s largest hunger-relief organization, announces a strategic plan for $11.8 million in investments across its 26-county service area. The plan will work to ensure that the one in five East Texans who are facing hunger have access to the nutritious food they need.

“The COVID-19 pandemic brought about a heightened awareness of hunger in East Texas. We’ve all seen the long lines of cars waiting for hours to receive a free box of groceries. Thankfully, it has also brought out resiliency in our hunger-relief network and unprecedented generosity from our community,” said East Texas Food Bank CEO Dennis Cullinane. “With a renewed sense of understanding and empathy towards hunger in East Texas, now is the time to build upon the momentum and strategically grow our programs to meet the need.”

The announcement comes as East Texas is battling an unprecedented hunger crisis. Texas has the seventh highest food insecurity rate in the nation. Locally, one in five East Texans, including one in four children, are facing hunger. That’s approximately 239,800 East Texans, including 85,450 children.

“Unfortunately, the pandemic hit our most vulnerable neighbors the hardest. Seniors couldn’t safely go to the grocery store. Hard-working parents had to switch to at-home learning and lost the free and reduced meal programs through school. College students lost their jobs when restaurants shut down. We heard so many stories like these from people who had never needed food assistance before the pandemic,” Cullinane said. “Even though our state reopened and the economy is on the path to recovery, we are still seeing an increased need for food assistance. Our response continues to be a marathon, not a sprint.”

To meet the need, the East Texas Food Bank, in collaboration with its network of partner agencies, community leaders and generous donors, will work to ensure people struggling with hunger have access to the nutritious food they need to thrive. In order to do this, the East Texas Food Bank seeks to distribute 32 million meals a year throughout East Texas by 2025.

The East Texas Food Bank will accomplish this ambitious goal through six key strategic initiatives in its highest-need communities:

  1. Major Partner Agency Investment– ETFB will invest in strategic partner food pantries to expand their capacity to provide traditional meal distribution as a primary way to increase local food resources and increase their SNAP outreach and applications.
  2. Resource Centers– ETFB will bring the resource center model started in North Lufkin to other high-need communities. The resource centers will include a client-choice, healthy pantry and other wrap-around support services to provide a one-stop-shop of support for families.
  3. Targeted Direct and Mobile Pantry Distributions– ETFB will continue direct, targeted distributions it started during the pandemic to reach low-income, under-resourced neighborhoods with fresh produce.
  4. Fresh Produce and Purchasing Program– There is a high need for fresh produce, which is crucial for a healthy diet. ETFB will continue scaling its fresh produce and purchased food program to increase the availability and variety of items to its partner agencies.
  5. State and National Advocacy– ETFB will work in partnership with Feeding Texas and Feeding America to secure high-priority public policy, legislation and resources to support the collective, long-term goals to end hunger.
  6. Infrastructure- Key investments will include building out the East Texas Food Bank facilities and fleet and adding the staffing needed to meet this ambitious goal.

The revised strategic plan was made possible in part by a $9 million donation by renowned philanthropist Mackenzie Scott. In late 2020, Scott’s team anonymously researched 6,490 organizations and ultimately chose to invest in only 384. Of the 200 food banks across the U.S., ETFB was one of 42 selected.

In the Medium post, Scott said her team of advisors took a data-driven approach to identifying organizations with strong leadership teams and results, with special attention to those operating in communities facing high projected food insecurity, high measures of racial inequity, high local poverty rates and low access to philanthropic capital.

Scott noted, “We do this research and deeper diligence not only to identify organizations with high potential impact, but also to pave the way for unsolicited and unexpected gifts given with full trust and no strings attached. Our research is data-driven and rigorous, our giving process can be human and soft.”

“This generous investment in the East Texas Food Bank is a vote of confidence in the work we are all doing together to end hunger in East Texas,” Cullinane said. “Every partner agency, volunteer, donor, staff member, board member and stakeholder should feel proud to receive this recognition and investment.”

However, Cullinane added that the hunger crisis in East Texas is bigger than what any one philanthropist can solve. It will take individuals, corporations, foundations and our local organizations working together to end hunger.

“Ending hunger and its devastating effects in East Texas is within our reach when we all come together to fight hunger. With these investments and continued generosity of all East Texans, we can end hunger together,” Cullinane said.

In The News

ETFB Summer Food Program provides over 16,000 meals in June

SFSP Update June2021

The East Texas Food Bank Summer Food Program has wrapped up its first month of providing meals to children at 24 sites across our service area. Over 6,300 breakfasts and over 9,800 lunches have been served so far to help kids stay fueled up for summer fun.

The Summer Food Program partners with community locations to provide free meals to students who usually rely on free and reduced meal programs through their school. The program makes sure that children won’t miss meals throughout the summer and get the nourishment they need to thrive until school resumes. 

Christina Villanueva, Director of Summer Programs at THE REC in Whitehouse, says the Sumer Food Program is important to the children at her location. THE REC has been a summer food site since 2018.

“We rely on it to be honest,” she said. “If it wasn’t available, it would probably be a little bit of a struggle trying to get all these kids their food.”

Villanueva says THE REC is serving about 50 children per meal per day, a number that has grown this year.

“Our numbers dropped significantly due to COVID last year,” she said. “While we haven’t quite doubled, we are definitely in a better standing then where we were last year.”

The nutritious meals provided during the Summer Food Program consist of whole-grain cereals, sandwiches, wraps, fruits and milk.

“The fresh fruit is a big hit,” Villanueva said. “The kids are always wanting the apples!”

Villanueva said she knows many families struggled with the loss of free and reduced lunches during the school year due to COVID.

“To be able to continue offering this program again this summer, it’s been helpful for families who may still be having that financial struggle,” she said. “We are able to provide all nutritious meals to them. It’s been good.”

To learn more about the East Texas Food Bank Summer Food Program or to find a feeding site near you, click here.

Bell Elementary makes surprise gift during East Texas Giving Day

ETGD_Bell Elementary

During East Texas Giving Day in April, a record 2.8 million dollars was raised for nonprofit organizations in East Texas. Thanks to our generous donors and matching funds, the East Texas Food Bank was able to raise a remarkable $63,366 dollars to help with our mission of fighting hunger and feeding hope. Those funds  will help provide over 50,000 meals to the families we help.

One gift, however, came as an unexpected surprise.

Bell Elementary Principal Tamara Johnson gave us a call to say the school wanted to donate to the East Texas Food Bank for East Texas Giving Day. Bell Elementary is in Tyler Independent School District.

“Every year before COVID, our campus would host a Jingle Bell Run to raise money to benefit a student who may have been in a health crisis,” Johnson said. “Because of COVID this year, we were not able to go through the process like we normally would for one of our students.”

It was decided the funds would go to the food bank instead.

“The food bank feeds over 100 students here each Friday through the BackPack Program,” Johnson said. “We thought this would still benefit our students and our community with the donation.”

The BackPack Program was created to fill the meal gap on the weekends and extended breaks for students that rely on free and reduced meal programs through school. Staff and faculty members at school campuses, such as Bell, choose which children join the program, based on an assessment of need. On Fridays, participating children each receive a backpack filled with nutritious, kid-friendly items such as fruit, juice, cereal bars and shelf-stable milk to help last them until Monday morning, when school meal programs resume.

The Bell donation to the food bank totaled $10,375.86.

“We were absolutely thrilled to give to the food bank,” Johnson said. “We see your efforts in the community and we wanted to have a greater impact.”

“This gift from Bell Elementary will ensure that the children, families and seniors we serve have access to the nutritious food they need to thrive,” said East Texas Food Bank CEO Dennis Cullinane. “We are so grateful to the staff, students and parents for thinking of us during this day of community giving.”

College students may be eligible for SNAP benefits under temporary program

College students are not exempt from facing hunger. In fact, 39% of students at two-year institutions and 29% at four-year institutions were reported as not having proper access to food in a recent study by The Hope Center. According to Every Texan, “71% of undergraduate college students are single parents, come from low-income families, or work at least half-time, making this the first time in history that lower-income students are enrolling in college at higher rates than their middle-income classmates.”

SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, provides a defensive to help combat hunger. However, most full-time students are not eligible to receive benefits. Of those eligible, only 4 out of 10 are enrolled.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress made temporary adjustments to SNAP to remove restrictions and allow more students to qualify for benefits. Eligibility is determined by the following:

  • Student must be enrolled at least half-time in a higher education institution (college, university or trade/technical school).
  • Student must participate in state or federally funded work-study during the school year OR
  • Student has an Expected Family Contribution (EFC) of 0 in the current academic year
    (Any student who receives the maximum Pell Grant has an EFC of 0).

Documentation such as a financial aid award letter, letter from school, Student Aid Report (SAR) or unemployment documentation may need to be provided to verify benefit eligibility. The new, temporary exemptions will be in effect until 30 days after the federal government lifts the official designation of the nationwide COVID-19 public health emergency.

Our Benefits Assistance Team at the East Texas Food Bank can help you or someone you know determine qualification for these important benefits. Click here to fill out a Benefits Assistance Request and a representative will follow up with you.

“Fight Hunger. Spark Change.” with Walmart, Sam’s Club


One in five East Texans, including one in three children, are facing hunger this year due to the ongoing economic fallout from COVID-19. Neighbors in our community are struggling to put food on the table – simply facing this difficult reality for the first time in their lives.

That is why Walmart and Sam’s Club are supporting the Feeding America nationwide network of food banks, including the East Texas Food Bank, through the Fight Hunger. Spark Change. campaign. Now in its eighth year, the campaign has been a way for Walmart and Sam’s Club to partner with suppliers, customers, and members to help provide food to people in need. In fact, last year over 870,000 additional meals were provided to families through the East Texas Food Bank thanks to this campaign!

Fight Hunger. Spark Change.  runs in stores and online from April 5 – May 3, 2021. There are four easy ways for customers and members to participate:

Funds raised through Walmart and Sam’s Club stores in our service area will directly benefit the East Texas Food Bank.

Participating suppliers include: Abbott, Bodyarmor, Bush Brothers & Company, Campbell Soup Company, Clif Bar & Company, Ferrera Candy Company, General Mills, Great Value, Iovate Health Sciences, J.M. Smucker, Kellogg’s, Keurig/Mott’s, Kitu Coffee, Kraft Heinz, Materne North America, Mighty Spark, Monster Energy, PEPSICO, Post Consumer Brands, Purina, Simply Good Foods, Strong Roots, The Coca-Cola Company, The Clorox Company, This Saves Lives, Unilever and United States Nutrition.