A unique partnership on the Texas A&M University campus is “beefing up” protein offerings at the campus food bank to ensure no student, staff or faculty member has to study or work on an empty stomach.
During this COVID-19 pandemic, more and more people are facing financial difficulty and finding themselves among the more than 40 million people nationwide who are considered food insecure.
The Texas A&M Department of Animal Science, Cactus Cares and The 12th Can Food Pantry are teaming up to assist the food insecure on campus by providing something few food banks across the U.S. can offer – frozen beef.
The 12th Can Food Pantry is affiliated with Brazos Valley Food Bank as a program partner and is funded through the Texas A&M Foundation. Their goal is to eliminate hunger on campus and to serve any student, staff or faculty who are in need.
Cactus Cares is the non-profit foundation of Cactus Feeders, based in Amarillo, and is dedicated to helping communities and causes where Cactus Feeders and Cactus Family Farms are located.
“We are excited about our partnership with The 12th Can, our Rosenthal Meat Science and Technology Center and Cactus Cares to supply meat protein to local folks who are food insecure,” said Cliff Lamb, Ph.D., head of the Department of Animal Science in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.
“We know nutritious meals every day are important to making sure students are mentally prepared to learn, so we are glad we can help provide animal protein to the Texas A&M food pantry,” Lamb said. “Every two weeks, we deliver meat to them that is paid for by Cactus Cares. The 12th Can was never able to provide animal protein in the past, but now they get to do that.”
Cactus Cares makes it all possible
Shelby Padgett, assistant director for Cactus Cares, Bryan-College Station, said they’ve discovered a partnership in university meat labs, such as the Rosenthal Meat Science and Technology Center, helps them amplify their outreach.
“In our focus on hunger relief efforts, we wanted to make sure food pantries and others are able to access protein sources,” Padgett said. “Before we were giving dollars to food banks or pantries and the operators had to go shopping and try to purchase the products at a supermarket for the best price they could find and packaged in the desired size for distribution.”
However, by working directly with the meat processing facilities on campuses and purchasing their products there, Cactus Cares is able to get twice as much mileage from their dollars, she said.
“With that same dollar we are now able to support the food pantry and also the students who are working at these university meat labs,” Padgett said. “In addition, the university meat lab program is very flexible, and we can work with the meat lab to meet whatever the food pantry’s needs may be.”
She said they previously established Cactus Cares connections with meat labs at West Texas A&M University, Texas Tech University and Iowa State University. They primarily provide ground beef and ground pork because those are the easiest products for food pantry clients to use.
“We’re very excited about our partnership with Texas A&M and The 12th Can, and we look forward to continuing to grow and expand the relationship with Texas A&M’s Department of Animal Science and the Rosenthal Center,” Padgett said.
Frozen ground beef in plentiful supply at Rosenthal
“The opportunity for this meat product to be distributed through The 12th Can is fantastic, but it is only possible because of Cactus Cares,” said Ray Riley, Rosenthal Meat Science and Technology Center manager. “It also says a lot for our livestock industry, when we have people in the industry willing to give back to their communities.”
Riley said at the Rosenthal Center they offer all types of meat product that are generated through the teaching, research and extension programs of Texas A&M’s Department of Animal Science. Processing beef, lamb and pork, the students harvest, cut, package and distribute the meat cuts. In the Animal Science 307 class taken by all animal science students, they learn about food safety, anatomy, carcasses, fabrication and other aspects of the animal food industry.
All of the fresh meat products are produced under state meat inspection and typically sold in their retail store.
“It’s a byproduct of our teaching, and we have to have an avenue of moving that product,” he said. “But one of the products we produce is lots of ground beef. So, this is very beneficial to our meat lab, giving us an avenue to move more of the meat we process. Cactus Cares’ broadened outreach is an opportunity for us. Without someone who will pay for the meat product to be distributed like this, it wouldn’t be possible.”
Riley said they have distributed over 600 pounds of ground beef to The 12th Can after starting the program in October. The 12th Can lets him know in advance how much they will need during the distribution period.
“So far, all we’ve done is ground beef. But as they get a better feel for their customers, we believe there will be the opportunity to provide other products such as pork sausage, ground pork, all types of beef steaks, maybe roasts, stew meats, pork chops, pork roast, and any type of lamb products.”
The 12th Can beef offerings
The 12th Can has never had a source of meat protein in the past, said David Chapa, associate director of The 12th Can.
“Our clients have been very appreciative of the frozen ground beef we are able to provide them, especially in this time when some have found themselves in financial difficulty. They were finding higher beef prices at the supermarket and may not have been able to continue providing that for their families.”
The Rosenthal Center initially provided coolers and ice packs with the frozen beef, but Chapa said they are excited they were recently successful in a grant application for a freezer trailer through the Brazos Valley Food Bank that will allow them to store more meat and cold products.
Chapa said they have been distributing around 125 pounds during the two days they are open every other week, with the amount each client receives based on their household size.
There are fewer students in town, so Chapa said they are serving about 80 people per opening, but pre-COVID, were serving 120 people. During the months following the initial shutdown, that number grew to as many as 160 customers.
“One discussion we are having is potentially to provide more meat and possibly milk now that we have the freezer trailer,” he said. “And the coolest thing about this all is we are a completely student run non-profit.”