Assignment team harvests tomatoes for San Antonio needy

  • Published
  • By Debbie Gildea
  • Air Force Personnel, Services and Manpower Public Affairs
Lao Tzu said if you teach a man to fish, you'll feed him for a lifetime, but San Antonio Food Bank officials say if you teach a team to harvest, you can feed hundreds of people for weeks.

Air Force Personnel Center military assignments volunteers tested that theory recently when they joined other volunteers at the San Antonio Food Bank to harvest tomatoes and other produce that will help feed San Antonians in need.

The non-profit food bank is a clearing house for donated food, produce and other grocery items, said Heather Guzman, the donor engagement coordinator. Food donations come from major companies, the Department of Agriculture, Texas farmers and the general public, she said.

The food bank is just one organizations in the San Antonio area that needs volunteers, but Tech. Sgt. Dolores Barrita, a special duty assignments specialist, vectored her volunteer team toward the food bank because "people shouldn't be hungry, and they shouldn't be afraid that they'll always be hungry," she said.

"I've worked with different food bank projects before, here and at other bases, and am always impressed by the dedicated people whose goal is to feed the hungry," Barrita said. "They work so hard to take care of people who can't take care of themselves, and we just wanted to be part of that mission."

Volunteers are critical, Guzman said. They support every aspect of the business, from working in the garden to packaging food for distribution to more than 500 partner service agencies like soup kitchens, food pantries, rehabilitation facilities, crisis shelters, hospice programs, orphanages and low-income daycare facilities.

Volunteers can also work with any of the partner agencies that the food bank supports, or internal programs such as the culinary arts program ( a 16-week professional cooking course followed by job placement assistance), the summer food service program (providing meals and snacks for low income children during the summer -- for many, the only meal they'll have each day) and Project HOPE (Healthy Options Program for the Elderly -- monthly food staples for fixed-income seniors).

Food donations are always welcome and needed, Guzman said, but people who want to help can also donate money, or volunteer their time.

"Money donations go much further than you might think," she said. "For a dollar, we can buy $13 worth of groceries. With $20, we can provide 140 meals. A $100 donation will enable us to feed 700 people," she said.

This is the assignment directorate's second community service event. Last month they helped build houses for the Habitat for Humanity of San Antonio. Next month they're hoping to help out at the Haven for Hope homeless shelter or one of the local soup kitchens.

"We're committed to these activities," Barrita said. "We have so much while other people have so little, and we want to help take care of those people. It's not really work either because we do it together as a team, and we have a lot of fun, whatever the project is."