Each day kitchens across Austin fight hunger and food insecurity – Austin American-Statesman

With a no-questions-asked policy, the only thing that matters along the stretch of sidewalk on East Cesar Chavez Street is whether you take sugar and cream with your coffee.  
Part of a daily breakfast routine for many people living through homelessness and food insecurity in East Austin, the line that files through Angel House Soup Kitchen is always greeted with fresh food, a smile and the promise of another meal. 
Offering two meals a day to hundreds of people, volunteers at Angel House are an example of the many organizations, restaurants and nonprofits bent on feeding Austinites struggling with food access each day. 
“We’ve got people that are between jobs, we’ve got families, we have people that are homeless and we just don’t ask questions,” said Cindy Smith, a director of the Austin Baptist Chapel running the kitchen. “We just serve everybody.”
Smith’s kitchen — dependent on food donations resulting in breakfasts of fruit, yogurt and cereal and a lunch of soup and sandwiches — serves returning guests struggling with homelessness every day of the week.   
As a result, many familiar faces pass by each morning to share breakfast before heading to job interviews and career training or to shelters in nearby downtown to spend the day indoors. 
Austin Toonhey had relied on the kitchen before and through the pandemic until he relocated to North Austin last year. 
On Thursday, he returned for breakfast before attending a trade school class, as he knew there would be something to eat alongside friends from over the years living on the east side. 
“It really has meant so much to me that there was a place to find a meal, twice a day,” Toonhey said. “I don’t know how a lot of people would make it without places like this.”
Prior to the pandemic, Angel House served in a cafeteria setting as guests filled tables and ate together. That changed over the course of the pandemic into a to-go style, which remains in place today.
However, even with the dining room closed, many guests are able to gather, catch up and feel a sense of normalcy to begin the day while eating along the sidewalk.
“There’s 300 to 400 stories a day that walk by here,” said Rev. Mark Smith, serving coffee from a makeshift “walk-thru” window.
After moving to Austin from Georgia seven years ago, Smith and his wife took over Angel House, which has served as a soup kitchen since the 1980s.
“We moved here specifically to do this,” Cindy Smith said. “The guy that was before us, he was in his 80s at the time and wanting to retire. So we jumped in to help.”
The Smiths served 142 guests breakfast on Thursday as volunteers in the kitchen made 230 sandwiches in anticipation of the lunch rush.
Much like Angel House, the Trinity Center located on East 7th and Trinity streets also has a consistent and steady demand for a morning breakfast.
Serving many among the city’s downtown homeless population, the Trinity Center is a weekday refuge for people in need of food, shelter, a bus pass or a simple greeting.
The Trinity Center is “somewhere where they’ll be acknowledged, somewhere where they’ll get some hot coffee and a good morning,” said Christian Rodriguez, the center’s executive director. “We’re grateful to serve, and we’re grateful to be here and meet a big need — but in a small way — because of one meal.”
Each weekday morning at 9:30 a.m., Timothy Warfield, who is experiencing homelessness, makes his way to Trinity Street to have breakfast with his neighbors.
“It’s busier than it should be for a Wednesday,” Warfield said last week. “You would expect this line at the beginning of the week, not now. People are really struggling.”
Living in the area for about five years, Warfield was laid off from his job working at Marriott properties in North Austin during the pandemic. Since becoming homeless, he has relied on the Trinity Center for breakfast and relief from the heat over the summer. To pass the time, Warfield, a published poet, spends time writing about what motivates him and what he sees around him during the day.
“This is as good of a time as any to get into my writing, with the layoffs,” he said.
Austin’s Ending Community Homelessness Coalition did not conduct its annual estimated count of the city’s homeless population during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, projections based on historic data showed 3,160 people to be living as homeless in 2021, with thousands more seeking out homelessness services provided by the city.
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Additionally, more than 177,000 residents in the Austin area struggled with food insecurity in 2021, according to Feeding America.
Many of the efforts to reduce homelessness through city-run programs revolve around housing needs and social services. The daily nutritional needs of people without dependable food access is filled by traditional soup kitchens and restaurant-driven organizations.
Beginning as an advocacy group for food industry employees prior to the pandemic, Good Work Austin has since morphed into an organization that ties the city’s restaurants together in a concerted effort to fill a growing hunger gap.
With dozens of partnering restaurants, eateries around Austin are able to sign up and provide meals each week across the city where demand is necessary.
“We just think local restaurants have a lot to give in this area, by being able to produce high quality, good tasting, nutritious meals that are not always what these people have access to,” said Kevin Lawler, executive director of Good Work Austin.
Each partner restaurant cooks in its own facility. Meals are then delivered to different kitchens, food trucks and nonprofits that now have one less meal to worry about preparing during the week.
“We view ourselves as one piece of the puzzle,” Lawler said. “We sort of fill in the gaps, where our partner organizations are maybe providing other services, but the people they’re working with need to eat.”

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