Sylvia Garza first went to the San Antonio Food Bank to ask for food aid. She got that help, and through a new federally funded partnership, Garza was also offered resources to help her tackle the root cause of her food insecurity: unemployment.
Garza, 53, is currently taking classes at the new Workforce Solutions Alamo Career Center, located on the second floor of the food bank’s headquarters, which she hopes will lead to stable work.
She is one of 600 people who have already benefited from this unique partnership, thanks to a pilot program launched in March.
On Friday, officials from the San Antonio Food Bank and Workforce Solutions Alamo (WSA) celebrated the official launch of the center, which is funded by US Department of Labor grants aimed at retraining workers whose jobs were lost in due to the pandemic.
“Hunger is not about food. Food is not the solution. Ending hunger…is meaningful work,” said Eric Cooper, CEO of the San Antonio Food Bank.
Many people seeking food assistance through the food bank may not be connected or aware of labor services, said WSA CEO Adrian Lopez; this partnership aims to help people easily acquire the skills they need to find good jobs.
Those who enroll in the free program will work with guidance counselors to create a program unique to their needs. Some will participate in the program for a shorter period and others for a longer period as they acquire the skills needed for the job. Once completed, the Food Bank Career Center will also provide job placement assistance.
The food bank, with local partners, has for years offered a number of training programs, in the culinary and warehouse industries, as well as employment assistance and preparation services. The creation of the Career Center expands these efforts.
Three Workforce Solutions Alamo staff will now work full-time at the new career center, Lopez said.
“There are thousands of people who come to the food bank every week for food,” Lopez said. Now that the program is officially launched, he added, they expect enrollment in the program to increase. “It’s about meeting people where they are. A food bank is so essential to people’s lives in San Antonio.
In addition to the on-site career center, Lopez said, the plan is to launch a mobile unit in the spring of 2023, to bring workforce development training to food bank pantries across the county.
The two federal grants funding the program by the Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration were awarded in 2020 as the pandemic put millions of Americans out of work.
Connecting those in need of job training through the food bank makes sense, said Mayor Ron Nirenberg, who called the new partnership “essential fuel” for encouraging economic mobility in the city.
“Neighbors who ask for help from the food bank often, and almost always, need other help,” he said at the ceremony on Friday. “Employment and training assistance in particular. Far too many San Antonians are one crisis away from financial disaster.
This partnership will complement the city’s $230 million taxpayer-funded Ready to Work SA, Nirenberg said. This program was launched in May with the aim of placing more than 15,000 people in new jobs over five years.
Creating jobs in growing fields and well-paying careers is the most important way to help people find stable, long-term solutions, he added.
The federally funded program will complement the city’s $230 million Ready To Work program, Nirenberg said, which aims to employ San Antonio residents. The WSA will endeavor to employ people in multiple counties.
At the career center on Friday, Garza and her adult son attended a class on using a laptop — something Garza said she had never used before. With help, she also created a LinkedIn profile, making it easier to apply for jobs.
Garza said she was excited about the prospect of earning her own laptop – a benefit confirmed by a food bank spokeswoman, who said those who sign up for courses through the career center have the chance to win a free laptop through a partnership with Google Fiber and LinkedIn Learning, which aims to bridge the digital divide.
Garza is confident in her job prospects, thanks to the new career center.
“It’s a great program coming up,” she said. “I think everyone should come if they desperately need help. This is where they should be.