Austin council members call on city manager to help deploy food distribution

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“We have not yet received confirmation from you that we will have such a food distribution operation at the scale that is necessary, and this issue is urgent.”

AUSTIN, Texas — In order to meet a need that’s been exacerbated first by the pandemic and again during this week’s severe winter storm, a group of Austin city council members have asked the city manager to take immediate action on food distribution sites.  

“Food insecurity was a serious issue before this disaster due to the pandemic, and is now far worse because of this crisis,” a letter addressed to City Manager Spencer Cronk reads. 

Nearly a year into the coronavirus pandemic, a brutal winter storm hit southern states leading to an energy crisis in Texas that caused millions of residents to lose power and water over the last week. 

In the time since, Austin-area mutual aid, nonprofits, restaurants and others have stepped in to provide free food as supplies and outages allowed, but council members say the City of Austin should “establish a significant food distribution operation,” as need is expected to grow. 

At the time of the letter, council members said they had not received confirmation from Cronk that a food distribution operation was underway. 

The letter was posted to Twitter by council members on Sunday and is signed by Mayor Pro Tem Natasha Harper-Madison, District 2 Council Member Vanessa Fuentes, District 3 Council Member Sabino “Pio” Renteria and District 4 Council Member Gregorio “Greg” Casar. 

In the letter, council members wrote that they’d contacted Cronk’s office in the days prior regarding the need for a large scale food distribution effort. 

“We need your office to coordinate with all relevant agencies, including the state and federal government, to provide significant quantities of food to our communities right now,” the letter reads. 

After a week of severe weather, the issue of food insecurity has been made far worse, council members say, as many have had their food spoil without power, lacked access to resources due to closures and lost a weeks worth of wages with rent due in just a week.

“We have heard from many constituents who are desperately asking for food and water today. We expect a major increase in the amount of food insecure households in the coming week due to this disaster,” the letter reads. 

On Saturday, Central Texas Food Bank put on its second largest mass distribution effort in history feeding over 2,200 households. 

Council members say that at the food distributions so far, “demand has far exceeded supply. Cars have had to be turned away due to insufficient supply.”

Fuentes, who represents southeast Austin, said situations like what’s occurred over the last week expose inequities that must be addressed, including the lack of access to food in the area she serves, which leaves residents vulnerable. 

“We have a lack of infrastructure. We don’t have a hospital east of I-35, don’t have grocery stores in many of our neighborhoods, don’t have public transit. These are low-income communities, communities of color,” Fuentes said on Saturday at the Central Food Bank’s distribution. “In these times of great need, the best thing we can do is – once we get out of it – that we change the systems, to make sure we focus on infrastructure.”

Council Member Kathie Tovo, of District 9, tweeted her support of the effort, as well. 

KVUE has reached out to the city manager’s office for comment and have not yet heard back.

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