WSD partnership with San Antonio Food Bank enriches graduates, gives back to community
The San Antonio Food Bank (SAFB) recently held a commencement ceremony for students participating in the Texas Second Chance Warehouse Program. This partnership between Windham School District (WSD), Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) and the SAFB allows currently incarcerated offenders to participate in a 100-hour course. They work with pallets, forklifts and customer orders, learning “all of the ins and outs of making the SAFB an effective, smooth-running, logistical operation,” said SAFB Chief Development Officer Michael Guerra.
“In these programs, as the students are providing us with the service, they are also getting a job skill. Their hope is that as they move on to the next stage of their life and graduate from the program, they really are able to help provide food for life. A lot of our food bank work is providing food for families in need today, as well as food for tomorrow.
“In both of our work programs, in the kitchens and the warehouse, it’s really about moving each of you to a place of independence and being able to provide for those needs in the long term. We’re very excited and delighted to host these programs and to have you all as graduates today,” Guerra told the participating offenders.
SAFB President/CEO Eric Cooper told those in attendance that he is no stranger to TDCJ, having an older brother who was incarcerated.
“I remember being with my mom and people always asking how the kids were doing. There are six of us. My mom would skip over my older brother, who was incarcerated, because she was embarrassed and didn’t want to talk about it,” Cooper said. “My brother didn’t have an opportunity to serve in a program like you guys have been able to do. This is something that your mom can brag about.”
Cooper expressed thanks to the graduates for their hard work and support.
“We could not do what we do in fulfilling our mission of fighting hunger and feeding hope without you. Since you’ve been here, we’ve been able to nourish many. Whether that’s meals coming through our kitchen or orders physically pulled at the warehouse, it would be impossible for us to do our mission without incredible talent, and we count on you for that.”
WSD Principal Teresa Craiker spoke about how the partnership is helping WSD students from the Dominguez State Jail gain skills necessary for the work environment, as well as help others through food bank operations. She said learning to deal with others is an important part of the program.
“Our students appreciate the chance to give back to the community. Sometimes they don’t realize that they have a chance to give back. Life is a continuing education experience,” Craiker continued, “and through this partnership, they’ve learned a lot. These students will now be capable of getting out of prison with tools that will last them their whole lifetime.”
Guest speaker Chef Orlando Jinzo was also pleased to be a part of this ceremony.
“My family and I survived off of food bank donations and it was nothing like the operations I have seen today,” Jinzo said, “I can only say it’s extremely humbling and very, very impressive to see all of the hard work that the SAFB contributes to the community.”
Jinzo told graduates that he grew up with an incarcerated father and understands “the tremendous amount of time and dedication that it takes for you guys in the Second Chance program to set a goal and to accomplish that goal. Keep your goals in mind, keep your head up and accomplish those goals -- and you will achieve everything that you want in life.”
WSD student and Second Chance graduate J. Seymore said he was thankful for the opportunity to participate in the program and for the support of SAFB staff, TDCJ officers and the family members of the students.
“Not many of us in our situation have the opportunity to give and serve our community while being locked up. It’s been an honor to receive training in the warehouse industry. May we have the drive and the strength to better our lives for ourselves and the loved ones that surround us; we all deserve that much,” Seymour told his graduating class.
Family members of the offenders were in attendance, applauding the accomplishments of graduates J. Aguilera, M. Alvarado, N. Balderas, J. Barrios, R. Beasley, R. Bennett, J. Douglas-Benavides, C. Howell, G. Lewis, T. Nolan, J. Seymore and G. Turner.
*Another warehouse program class begins at Dominguez State Jail this fall.