Every Wednesday morning, the St. John Community Food Center opens for business at 9am. But the lines outside the door – one for returning clients, one for new – begin forming several hours earlier. Last Wednesday, Oliver Taylor, 56, arrived at 6am after a 45-minute, cane-assisted limp from his home in an apartment complex a couple miles north. Both his legs were broken some time ago in an accident; he needs surgery that he can't afford. "I usually ride my bike, but I got a flat yesterday and had to leave it with a friend until I could get a new tube." This day, Taylor is about 30 people back in the line for returning clients and will be in the second group admitted to the waiting area, where he'll sign in and pick up roughly 50 pounds of food – bread, produce, frozen meat, juice, and other such staples – to carry home on foot for himself and his teenage niece and nephew who live with him. Clients are limited to one visit a month (the elderly can come twice), and Taylor says the pantry provides about 60% of his family's monthly groceries. As for his disability check: "After I pay the rent and then the rest for food, that's pretty much it."
This is Taylor's third visit to the Capital Area Food Bank of Texas pantry on East St. Johns Avenue, across the street from Webb Middle School. According to Brandon Pettet, the CAFB agency relations representative who, with his colleague Anna Maciel, supervises this site, the pantry feeds an average of 150 families each week, although recently the numbers have reached closer to 200. From the looks of the two lines, it will serve at least that many today. That's four Wednesdays in a month (or five, in this one), each with a different group of 150-200 families – and this is only one among the dozens of pantries served by CAFB and its 300 partner agencies in 21 Central Texas counties. "Some people are hoping for turkeys today, with the holiday coming," says Pettet, "but we only have a dozen or so. They can stay in line today or instead come back next week and hope we have more."
Just opposite Taylor, in the new client line, is Jennifer Aranda, 35 and the mother of six children, who is waiting today with her youngest, Marcus, 3. "We're going through a hard time; my husband works in HVAC maintenance and repair, and I'm a nurse, but I had to quit work to take care of Marcus – he needs heart surgery in February. And then the car broke down, and we had to fix that. We need help to get through the next few months. It's to get by until I can get back to work."
Leaving the pantry, Taylor is untroubled by the unavailability of turkeys. "Any food is fine," he says. He gathers his cane and bags of groceries, and steadies himself for the long walk home. "You name it, I've done it; you name it, I can do it," he says. "But right now, the work situation is kind of bad. Before I was disabled, I was working, but I'm not working now."
Anything else he'd like to add? "Just take it one day at a time, and keep holding on; you'll be all right."
To learn more about the work of the Capital Area Food Bank or to find out how to help – your $1 buys $5 worth of food – please visit www.austinfoodbank.org.
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