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Streamlining Our Small But Mighty Food Pantry

The Borderland Rainbow Center is a vibrant community center empowering the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, etc. (LGBTQ+) population in the El Paso, Texas region. We usually have multiple events a day taking place at the center: support groups, social events, a busy food pantry, and services for people who are deaf and hard of hearing. We even offer LGBTQ-affirming psychotherapy on a sliding scale.

As the COVID-19 crisis grew, we migrated our activities to virtual formats, but our food pantry, used heavily by older adults, cannot carry out its function online. Inspired by the problems with lack of food availability in stores due to hoarding, we expanded our eligibility guidelines to crisis criterion—anyone who needs food gets it. We also expanded our capacity from 220 to 300 clients weekly.

Our staff was very concerned about how to protect our vulnerable senior and immune-compromised clients from infection. Our team started to innovate and modify how food is distributed. Normally clients arrive at our facility, sign in and receive a number, and then file through an indoor food pantry area to select the fresh produce and products they would like. Now we have a streamlined process; each Monday or Friday, clients who walk or use public transport go up to an open-air table our facility between 11:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m., sign in, and walk away with their pre-packed bags of food. Drive up clients can cruise through our parking lot, roll down a window and receive food without even leaving their vehicle from 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. No fuss, no muss! Just smiles and greetings from a safe 6 feet, and a large box of food to help people stay healthy.

Thanks to our partnerships with local small businesses, every pantry session includes fresh produce and dairy while our El Pasoans Fighting Hunger Food Bank provides meat and non-perishable items. We may miss our convivial monthly free brunches where we normally socialize with folks of all ages, but at least we rest assured that our clients have plenty of the highest quality food we can provide.

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About Brenda Risch, PhD, LMSW

Founder and Executive Director of the Borderland Rainbow Center in El Paso, TX.