For 20 counties in West Texas, the South Plains Food Bank is a beacon of help and hope.
According to its website, just over 96,000 people in the area were food insecure last year. The South Plains Food Bank served 56,243 people last year, but would like to be able to serve the close to 40,000 others who need help.
Berry Massey, the volunteer services manager for the South Plains Food Bank, said the food bank takes almost every donation it gets. He said it often gets donations of products that do not sell well in stores.
“We get a lot of donated products that may be getting close to the best by date,” Massey said. “We get it and put it in different packages or bag it up and put it in a food box.”
While this is a large part of the operation, Massey said they also prepare many meals daily in their large kitchen.
Susan Raines-Luesse, child nutrition programs director for the South Plains Food Bank, said her career has been a long time in the making. As a child growing up in the housing projects of Houston, Raines-Luesse’s family was food insecure. In what she described as a time of dire need, someone anonymously deposited a food box on their front door step.
While all the food inside was appreciated, Raines-Luesse said one item in particular stuck out to her: a box of cake mix. Raines-Luesse said the mix called for oil and eggs, but she and her mother did not have either.
“That cake box was kind of useless, in a way, because we didn’t have the other ingredients,” Raines-Luesse said. “So, that food box served as my beacon of hope that things would get better and that there would be a day that we would have the proper groceries and ingredients to make that cake.”
She was only 12 when her family was given that box of food, but it impacted Raines-Luesse deeply, and she said her involvement with the food bank is heavily based on that life experience. Now, she cooks for about 500 children in need, daily.
“It’s a cliché, but pay it forward,” Raines-Luesse said. “As a child, nobody should experience hunger; not a child and not an adult.”
Raines-Luesse said she could be cooking more complex dishes at an upscale venue, but she feels called to be at the South Plains Food Bank. After her mother died from malnutrition, she knew she had to help others in need.
“A lot of it is in memory of her,” Raines-Luesse said. “I could be doing fancy plates and catering, but not too many people want to just cook for kids. So, I try and make it as tasty and nutritious as I can.”