A Second Calling: Retired Nurse Supports Food Pantry
Monday, May 18, 2020
Posted by: Shanna Howard
By Suzanna M. Feliciano, MBA, BSN, RN, CCRN, and Shanna Howard
The Medina County Food Pantry, in Hondo, Texas, had been housed in a WWII barrack for 27 years, but by 2017, the building had become run-down, unsafe to work in and a health hazard. It could no longer pass inspection by the San Antonio Food Bank or support the Medina County pantry. Suzanna M. Feliciano, RN, retired from University Hospital in San Antonio after working in critical care for 38 years, saw a way to help.
The pantry president, retired physician John M. Fink, proposed his vision to establish a campaign to build a new building, but fundraising was slow, and it seemed nearly impossible because most donations were food rather than money. In March 2017, Feliciano answered a call for help after reading a letter in her church newsletter written by Fink and the Medina County Food Pantry Board.
“I was on an entirely different path following my retirement—I had recently enrolled in an online master’s business program, and my goal was to complete my studies by the end of 2018,” she says. However, Feliciano was invited to join the pantry’s board and began volunteering her time to represent her church and help with the fundraising campaign.
Feliciano began by submitting the pantry’s story to Texas Country Reporter’s Mueller Building giveaway. Though the pantry was not selected, Feliciano quickly learned the grant process, started to research other foundations and enrolled in grant-writing workshops to gain direction and guidance.
Over two years, Feliciano submitted grant after grant, but unfortunately, the rejection letters kept coming. “Despite this discouraging pattern, no one gave up, and the team remained optimistic because donations continued to come in,” she says. The board had also succeeded in raising awareness among city and county leaders of the need for a better facility as well.
Feliciano decided to change her approach with an application for the Baptist Health Foundation. She called the vice president of the foundation several months before submitting the completed application and explained that she was not a professional grant writer and was seeking guidance on how to be successful. “I was given the name of a local grant writer at Hondo’s small hospital with instructions to ‘pick her brain,’” she says. “This woman was a godsend, as she never hesitated to share her knowledge and time with me.”
In October of 2018, the endless hours of work paid-off. The Baptist Health Foundation sent a letter of congratulations after a site visit. By the end of 2018, the pantry had raised enough funds along with the Baptist Health Foundation grant and began construction in March 2019, which was completed almost a year later by the end of February 2020. The new 3,200 sq. ft. building serves an average of 200 families and 2,300 individuals annually, providing about 40 to 45 pounds of food per visit.
As the volunteers were preparing to open their new doors in March, the pandemic prohibited a grand opening. They quickly changed their strategy, and the board unanimously approved to host their first drive-thru distribution event on May 1, 2020, using 12 volunteers.
The transformation of the Medina County Food Pantry was greatly aided by Feliciano’s background as a critical care nurse. “I learned early in my nursing career that to be successful in any situation, you cannot do it alone.” With determination and innovation, she was able to help a small food pantry reopen its doors to meet the community’s need. On March 6, 2020, Feliciano completed her MBA and now plans to apply her new knowledge to facilitate other projects in the county.
To learn more about the Medina County Food Pantry (located at 1031 Avenue Y, Hondo, Texas) or to volunteer, contact Suzanna M. Feliciano at 210-508-3664 or email email@example.com.
(Picture 1: Completed building; Picture 2: Suzanna M. Feliciano inside the pantry warehouse; Picture 3: Volunteers; Picture 4: Cars lined along street at first food distribution)