A billionaire philanthropist has selected the East Texas Food Bank in Tyler as a beneficiary, but it’s unclear if those funds will trickle down to three partner Longview nonprofit organizations that help feed community members.

Officials at those Longview food pantries say they are seeing a continued increased demand for assistance related to the COVID-19 pandemic and are trying to meet those needs without the help of fundraising events this year.

According to the Feeding America’s 2020 study on child food insecurity, Texas has the seventh-highest child food insecurity rate in the country, and the East Texas Food Bank says one in five East Texans and one in three children in the region face hunger each day.

The East Texas Food Bank serves Gregg and 25 other area counties.

Newgate Mission, Longview Community Ministries and the Longview Dream Center work with the East Texas Food Bank.

Newgate Mission Manager Demetria Anderson said Newgate is serving the same number of hot meals as it has in years past, but the organization is seeing increased need, especially for assistance with electric bills and rent.

Though the mission also takes inquiries for rent and utility assistance, Newgate serves as a referral source to get residents in need to organizations that can help.

“We are not monetarily able to meet those needs,” Anderson said Monday.

She said the pandemic has brought a financial and health impact.

“For our community of people who come to Newgate, I think the biggest strain has been the social aspect and that family component,” Anderson said of the pandemic. “Here we’re like a family, and with the regulations, they can’t come inside and they can’t come in and socialize.”

Anderson said the mission receives food and funding from East Texas Food Bank.

“Because of the collaboration between us and East Texas Food Bank, we have been able to do daily food giveaways every Friday, and we have been able to assist people,” she said.

The mission operates its meal service as take out because of COVID-19 precautions.

Newgate Mission interim Executive Director Kristi Bogle-Sherman said the organization loves to work with the East Texas Food Bank.

“They’re doing a lot of great work,” she said. “We purchase some of the food we use each week, but we also utilize our donations from the East Texas Food Bank and other places here in town.”

Bogle-Sherman said the mission’s kitchen staff uses creative ways to prepare meals.

“Each week they look at our donations and use what they can,” she said. “The rest of that is distributed. This time of year, we get a lot of food and can give out a lot of food to help people.”

Newgate Mission is in need now of travel-size hygiene products, Bogle-Sherman said.

‘Trickle down’

The East Texas Food Bank recently received a donation from philanthropist MacKenzie Scott, the former wife of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.

Details about how the funds will be invested across the East Texas Food Bank’s service area are expected to be shared early next year, according to the food bank, and it is unclear how much the organization received.

Longview Community Ministries Executive Director Robin Fruia said their food pantry spends “thousands of dollars” to get goods from the East Texas Food Bank.

“Just because the East Texas Food Bank receives a donation, that doesn’t mean that it will trickle down to us,” Fruia said. “That’s great that they got a donation.”

She said Longview Community Ministries does what it can to meet needs with hot meals, a food box once per month and other programs.

Longview Community Ministries is the largest food pantry in the city, and the organization has seen “a lot of need” in the past year, according to Fruia.

“We also provide financial assistance for rent, mortgage, utility and prescription assistance as well as a free dental clinic,” she said. “Because of COVID, we can’t really have people receive services in the building, and we’re very limited on anyone coming into the building.”

Longview Community Ministries’ Meals with Love program, similar to Meals on Wheels, also has seen increased demand for delivery of hot meals.

Fruia said it’s more difficult to see the number of requests because of the lack of face-to-face meeting and the barriers to access for those who cannot make requests via phone or the internet. To help with that challenge, Longview Community Ministries is also accepting applications for assistance through a dropbox at its building.

“I would say we are seeing and helping the same amount but are seeing more need,” Fruia said.

The organization’s top three needs are for food assistance, rent or mortgage assistance and utilities assistance, she added.

“When people are not able to work or lose a job, they can find themselves in financial need,” Fruia said. “Everything can change so quickly.”

She said funding the food pantry and other programs has been more difficult because Longview Community Ministries’ largest fundraiser, the Touch a Truck event, was cancelled because of COVID-19.

“That leads to a shortfall of income,” Fruia said. “Though the needs of the community are increasing, we’re not able to fundraise as much to help. That has impacted us financially.”

Donations of canned goods are accepted as well as monetary donations to help with the food pantry as well as other programs.

“I would love for the public and the community to support their local food pantries, and we all need that support locally,” Fruia said. “Biggest thing for us, we continue to need the support of our local community so we can meet the needs of those who are struggling.”

‘Extremely busy’

Fruia said the East Texas Food Bank does not provide all food to its partner agencies for free.

According to the food bank, partner agencies do not pay for the food but do pay “shared maintenance.”

“This fee is designed to share a small portion of the costs of operating the East Texas Food Bank’s distribution costs with all partner agencies, and primarily helps to pay for the transportation and handling of products to our warehouse,” the food bank’s website states. “It also helps to cover warehouse expenses and covers other overhead costs. Shared maintenance is very similar to a ‘shipping and handling fee’ that you would pay if you’ve ordered online or from a catalog.”

The shared maintenance fee works out to about 10 cents per pound of food with a 19-cent cap.

“When the food bank is out of certain items, we have to go to grocery stores and pay full price,” Fruia said. “They run out just like everyone else.”

Longview Dream Center Executive Director Shonna Barlow said her organization’s food pantry has been “extremely busy.”

“All fundraisers have pretty much been cancelled, so we are seeing a decrease in funding but an increase in need,” she said.

The food pantry is in need of more canned goods and peanut butter. The Dream Center relies heavily on goods from the East Texas Food Bank and is on a “direct retail program” with the food bank, in which the Dream Center carries the expense of picking up the food from retailers.

Barlow used an example of a 24-pack of canned vegetables “costing” the Dream Center about $5 in a shared maintenance fee from the food bank rather than $20 or $30 from a retailer.

“A lot of times, they’ll have products (with no fee) at the food bank, and they just pass it on to us,” she said.

Barlow believes that large donations, possibly like the one from Scott, would trickle down to partner agencies through grants and more.

“The food bank is our biggest partner in fighting hunger,” Barlow said. “We would not be where we are today without the East Texas Food Bank.”

The Longview Dream Center holds produce distribution from 9 a.m. to noon every Saturday, with produce provided by the East Texas Food Bank at no cost to the organization.

“It’s provided to everyone no matter where they live, no questions asked,” Barlow said. “We serve about 400 families a week every Saturday. Before COVID, we were serving 250 families, and after COVID hit, it doubled.”

Monetary contributions can be made on each organization’s website.

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Courtney Stern is a public safety reporter covering a wide range of topics. She grew up in Baltimore and later earned a journalism degree from the University of Miami. Stern moved to East Texas from Iowa with her husband and two dogs, Pebbles and Bam Bam.