by Kelly J. Larson, Austin Area Coordinating Council Public Affairs Media Specialist
ROUND ROCK, Texas — Co-founders of the non-profit organization, HopeAustin, which has a mission to eliminate food insecurity for school kids, toured the Bishops’ Storehouse on Gattis School Road on Feb. 11.
Four years ago, Monica von Waaden invited her friend, Zee Nariman, to join her in a quest to help meet others’ basic needs, doing a food backpack program through the schools — sending home small bags of groceries to help feed students in need. What started out of von Waaden’s home, serving seventy-five kids per week, has expanded into 1,200 bags each week inside the backpacks of elementary, middle school and high school children in the Austin metropolitan area.
Sina Jensen, director of public affairs for the Austin Texas West Stake of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, asked von Waaden during the tour, “How are you able to help to maintain their dignity?”
Von Waaden explained that school districts determine the needs based on the free and reduced lunch program, by providing numbers rather than names, for HopeAustin to prepare for upcoming deliveries. Volunteer drivers then distribute storage bins filled with bagged up food that is either easy to prepare or ready to eat.
“When you’re in elementary school, it’s fun to go and get a bag of food, no big deal and no-one says boo,” von Waaden continued. “Middle school and high school students get to choose were they pick their kits up. It’s either a favorite counselor, a coach, the library or somewhere that feels safe. Some schools may have twelve students in need while others may have one hundred,” she said.
“HopeAustin provides weekend food support,” von Waaden added. “The students are being sustained during the week from free breakfasts and free lunches, then we make sure while they’re away, they’ll have something to eat.” The Bishops’ Storehouse is filled with food and necessities to help members and non-members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in times of need.
Tami Thomas helped coordinate with the church service missionaries who manage the storehouse and home storage center, Elder Edward and Sister Joyce McGowan, to pinpoint what food the church has access to that might be a beneficial donation for HopeAustin.
The church was able to donate a palate of canned tomato soup and canned tuna fish, valued at $2,500 to deliver to HopeAustin’s storage facility following the brief tour, and offer a commitment for future volunteers at an upcoming food bagging event.
Jensen thanked the two women of HopeAustin for the work they are doing in the community and in response, Nariman expressed her gratitude. She said, “Without the support of our community, none of this is possible.”
Nariman spent the first 26 years of her life in Mumbai, India, with her single mother and older sister and shared, “No matter where I was, there was need everywhere around me.”
Nariman credits her mom for teaching her that no matter how little they had, there was always extra for anyone around them.
”My mother taught me to give back. We moved here and there’s so much abundance and my life turned around,” Nariman said.
Elder McGowan gave an explanation about how the storehouse works. He said that everything in the facility is provided through offerings from church members, that every month, people fast for two meals and donate money they would have spent on those meals. Bishops are in charge of each congregation and meet with individuals to approve a food order, prior to picking it up, in a well organized manner. “From there, what you see here is ready to be given out, no questions asked. We are here, ready to serve,” he said.
Austin West Stake President Chris Germann conveyed how commodities provided through the Bishops’ Storehouse may ultimately end up becoming an amazingly, valuable “leg up” for individuals in need.