Getting It Done

Inside the Houston Food Bank: State-of-the-art building makes a big difference in hunger fight


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Photo by Fayza A. Elmostehi
News_Houston Food Bank_new facility
Photo by Fayza A. Elmostehi
News_Houston Food Bank_new facility
Photo by Fayza A. Elmostehi
News_Houston Food Bank_new facility
Photo by Fayza A. Elmostehi
News_Houston Food Bank_new facility
Photo by Fayza A. Elmostehi
News_Houston Food Bank_new facility
Photo by Fayza A. Elmostehi
News_Houston Food Bank_new facility
Photo by Fayza A. Elmostehi
News_Houston Food Bank_new facility
Photo by Fayza A. Elmostehi
News_Houston Food Bank_new facility
Photo by Fayza A. Elmostehi
News_Houston Food Bank_new facility
Photo by Fayza A. Elmostehi
News_Houston Food Bank_new facility
Photo by Fayza A. Elmostehi
News_Houston Food Bank_new facility
Photo by Fayza A. Elmostehi
News_Houston Food Bank_new facility
Photo by Fayza A. Elmostehi
News_Houston Food Bank_new facility
Photo by Fayza A. Elmostehi
News_Houston Food Bank_new facility
Photo by Fayza A. Elmostehi
News_Houston Food Bank_new facility
News_Houston Food Bank_new facility
Photo by Fayza A. Elmostehi
News_Houston Food Bank_new facility
Photo by Fayza A. Elmostehi

The Houston Food Bank has been helping families for more than 30 years. In August 2011, the organization moved from its old digs to a four-times-bigger, state-of-the-art facility in the former Sysco Foods distribution center. 

This upgrade, designed by Houston's RdlR Architects and featured in the AIA awards, makes the Houston Food Bank the largest food bank in the world

CultureMap went along for a tour to see how the building's changed almost everything — except the mission.

Upon entering, volunteers and workers are greeted with the Texans Cafe (sponsored by the Houston Texans) and a cheerful reception area. 

The Carousel Room is visible through the back windows.

The Houston Food Bank is the first food bank distribution facility to use this unique system of suspended box carriers, already commonly used in industrial settings. 

The carousels come from the loading docks, filled with boxes of mixed goods from food drives for volunteers to clean, check and sort, before returning to the warehouse. 

Volunteers consult easy guides on what to keep and what to throw away. 

Where before volunteer crews could hardly move without bumping elbows, the food bank's spacious 308,000 square feet now means that it can support up to 1,000 volunteers at a time.

All of the dry products are kept in a warehouse. Here, volunteers consult lists from partner agencies and check stock in preparation for processing an order. 

The Houston Food Bank works with nearly 500 partner agencies, which include church pantries, soup kitchens, nutrition sites and homeless shelters. 

The Houston Food Bank is a leader in the distribution of fresh fruits and vegetables among the nation's food banks. These shelves account for just a small portion of the warehouse's cold storage.

Food Bank employee Gilbert Cole fills an order for a food fair truck. 

Food fairs, which are set up like farmers markets, deliver food items to areas of extreme need.

Jacko Garrett, a rice farmer in Danbury, participates in a "Share the Harvest" program. For more than 22 years, he and his wife, Nancy, have donated a portion of the field at Garrett Farms to the Houston Food Bank — reaping, drying, packaging and delivering it all for free. 

The rice is portioned out into one-pound bags to be included in boxes that go out to families. 

Rice is also packaged to stock shelves in an on-site Emergency Food Pantry. 

The Emergency Food Pantry is open extended hours on weekdays and weekends, for those families who were not able to make it to their local pantry before closing time. 

The Emergency Food Pantry is operated by the North Channel Assistance Ministries.

The Houston Food Bank is attempting to secure a bus stop outside of the facility for the convenience of shoppers, who line up before the doors open. 

Coolers in the Emergency Food Pantry are full of meat and other perishables, part of the Houston Food Bank's Retail Recovery Program. 

Grocery stores donate short-dated food items that are still safe to eat, and the food bank picks it up. 

A stack of paletized goods, sent directly from a distributor for donation purposes, can be added directly to the warehouse shelves. 

The Houston Food Bank works with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to provide a warehouseman certification programs to inmates. The program, "Serving for Success," includes forklift certification and workplace literacy. 

This isn't an offender, of course — it's just CultureMap contributor Fayza Elmostehi sitting atop a forklift painted in the food bank's signature shade of apple green. 

Brian Greene, Houston Food Bank president and CEO, requested that this extra forklift be added to the lobby for photo opportunities. 

A bright green apple backdrop offers another place for volunteers to take a photo op. 

With its new facility, the Houston Food Bank looks to serve more hungry Houstonians — with a goal of 120 million pounds in annual food distribution by 2018.