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Hope and Food for the Holidays in Austin

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Actors and directors and musicians often feel left out of the holiday giving of charitable donations. And why? Because they rehearse on weekday nights and perform on weekend nights. There's no time for charitable giving unless they play for a fundraiser. A small irony is that they often rehearse in community halls of churches and synagogues and share space there with charitable organizations which can make charitable giving very efficient and easy and fun for them. Here is one story of many that can illustrate this idea.

The holiday volunteers at the Hope Food Pantry in central Austin take seriously the African saying, give a man a fish and he eats for a day; teach a man to fish and he feeds himself forever. The point is self-sufficiency, and it can be taught simply: for its holiday project Hope Food Pantry distributed to needy families a recipe for a basic and highly nutritious (and tasty) beans and rice dish and attached the recipe to a grocery bag filled with all the ingredients of the dish, enough for two or three preparations of the meal.

This innovative charity work comes out of a volunteer-run part-time food bank. “Hope Food Pantry is a partner agency of Capital Area Food Bank,” said John Hendrickson, a volunteer manager of Hope. The overarching partner makes food buys and receives wholesale donations of food which it distributes to its partners, such as Hope. It also sets hygienic and food safety standards for the partners. But direct donations of food from the public, especially canned food, remain an important resource for giving.

The launch of the recipe project was a dinner held in the community hall of Trinity United Methodist Church, which is also the home base of Hope Food Pantry. Volunteers came in with their donations of the low-cost food items. Then they enjoyed the dinner, featuring—guess what—the beans and rice dish as the entrée highlight. After the feast, the well-fed volunteers divided their uncooked food donations into grocery bags, making sure to include sufficient amounts of every ingredient of the recipe. The final step, after smiley faces and Christmas trees were drawn on the bags, was to staple a printed copy, in English and Spanish, of the beans and rice recipe onto each bag. “And that’s all there is to it,” said Mary Lett, volunteer manager and organizer of Hope. The groceries were distributed the following day at the regular distribution time of the pantry.

This event brought together holiday volunteerism and the good-time socializing favored by all Austinites. Similar readily organized charity events take place at other food pantries and churches and synagogues all over Austin. They are not hard to find, and rehearsing actors and musicians need only turn to the announcement board when they take a break. All the organizations welcome the public's participation. Hope Food Pantry’s efforts are not restricted to the holidays, either. They take canned food and most packaged sundries, soaps, etc, year-round on their regular distribution mornings, Thursdays and Fridays. Hope is at 4001 Speedway in Trinity United Methodist Church. Discover your own local food pantry and share the simple joy of food. Then get back to rehearsal.

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