In the 19 counties of our vast West Texas region, we are the only food bank in operation. Many of our service areas are also food deserts. A food desert, as defined by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), is a low-income census tract where a substantial number of residents have low access to a supermarket or large grocery store. In addition, there are very few major food producers in our area, so we must procure the food from distant sources, and at greater expense than some other areas of the state where farms and other food producers are plentiful.
The West Texas Food Bank has expanded our salvage and reclamation efforts in recent years. Our drivers and trucks visit 23 grocery stores several times a week to pick up donated product that would otherwise be thrown away. H-E-B delivers 30,000 pounds of donated product twice a month to our Odessa warehouse, and United Markets delivers once every two months. Our food procurement department is in constant contact with produce growers in the area and smaller grocery stores to acquire product that would otherwise be discarded.
The West Texas Food Bank, through its membership in Feeding America, can access and obtain USDA products as well as products from major food corporations at no cost or significantly reduced costs because of the volume being purchased. At times we must purchase much more food from a distant wholesaler because of USDA cutbacks, and greater efficiencies in food manufacturing that is reducing surpluses that were formerly donated to food banks. If the food bank with its affiliation to Feeding America was not in place to negotiate cheaper prices on food and provide this savings to many of our partners, they would have to expend many more funds, and may not even be in the charity food distribution business at all. West Texas would be a very hungry place indeed.
The West Texas Food Bank strives to provide high quality, nutritious food, including fresh produce. Because access to fresh vegetables and fruit is limited in the counties we serve, our produce program begins with an aggressive procurement process. Salvage and reclamation picked up from grocery stores includes produce. In addition, thanks to the support of the King Foundation and Oxy, the Food Bank has three refrigerated tractor trailers which regularly pick up 20,000 pounds per load of fresh produce made available through the Feeding Texas Mixing Center. Lastly, our food procurement department is in regular contact with growers in Texas and New Mexico to learn of excess produce we can pick up and provide to our clients. We distribute all this produce for free.