Local company sets the bar for Food For Families giving

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WACO, Texas (KWTX) KWTX marks 30 years of Food For Families Friday and for 10 of those years the employees of American Income Life in Waco have made the company the food drive’s largest corporate contributor.

The company's annual “canstruction” competition pitted each of American Income Life's seven divisions against the others in a Food For Families donation competition. (Staff photo)

“It’s all an employee-driven effort,” said Kathy Brackeen, vice president of public relations for the company and the person who started the effort in 2009.

Brackeen and Melanie Kemp, also with American Income Life, hosted media on Oct. 31 for the company’s annual “canstruction” competition, which pitted each of AIL’s seven divisions against the others in a Food For Families donation competition.

This year, for the first time, Liberty National Life Insurance Company, from Austin and one of American Income Life’s sister companies, asked if it could participate in the effort and ended up “canstructing” a Dallas Cowboy’s football helmet for their project entry.

“We usually kick off every year on Halloween,” Brackeen said, and “canstruction” is the kickoff event.

But the company’s employees pay it forward to Food For Families all year long by selling snacks and drinks on site and donating the profits to the drive, hosting meals for employees catered by any one of several area restaurants that are sold to employees for a whopping $6, and the overage, again, goes to Food For Families.

There are other events, many much more involved, that on the surface may not seem like much, but in the past nine years AIL has donated 454,678 pounds of food to the cause and if they meet the goal this year, that’ll grow by more than 60,000 pounds to a total of more than a half-million pounds.

“I just thought, ‘why don’t we do something,’” Brackeen said when she remembered why she suggested American Income Life become a “big-time” supporter.

It was several years ago, “my boss dropped this flyer from Caritas on my desk and I read it, passed it on, kept seeing it laying around and finally picked it up again,” she said.

“Then I thought we ought to do something.”

For several years the company held a soup kitchen on its parking lot at kickoff time, mainly for employees, because “I just wanted everyone to remember that there are people in our community who only get to eat like that,” Brackeen said.

The soup’s gone by the wayside, but chili has taken its place, “It is Texas, you know.”

Employees, and their families, not only raise money, they pay in sweat equity, too.

“We have loaded as many as 20 pickup trucks on collection day to take donations to the (television) station,” she said.

And one of the things that she says excites her the most is watching who’s doing the work.

“Everybody brings their kids, their spouses take off work, and we load tricks and deliver food, but it involves the whole family and that’s great to see,” Brackeen said.

She and her husband have five children of their own, ranging in age from 14 to 30, “and each one of them took part. Some still are.”

It’s participation like that that has guaranteed the continued success of the largest one-day food drive in the state of Texas, and that success guarantees filled shelves in Central Texas food pantries and ultimately food on families’ tables.

Food For Families has provided exactly 28,952,219 pounds of food to families from Hillsboro to Salado and from Evant to Mexia, through a day-long live television event that was the brainchild of Virgil Teter, a now retired KWTX vice president.

In 2018 alone, 2,221,369 pounds of food was collected.

The goal this year is 2.4 million pounds.

Thousands participate, in one way or another: kids take cans of food to school where sometimes classrooms compete to see which can raise the most, local grocery chain H-E-B., one of the partners in the drive, encourages shoppers to purchase inexpensive, pre-packed bags of staples for donation, The Texas National Guard, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, skads of fire departments and police departments, motorcycle clubs; it seems everybody joins in.

And, of course, American Income Life, and that’s where the success came from, Teter said.

“The fact that people in the community got behind the drive, supported it and gave of themselves for their neighbors is what made Food For Families last so long,” Teter said.

Brackeen said the Food For Families project is just the thing the company’s late founder, Bernard Rappoport of Waco, an entrepreneur, philanthropist, author, who spent his life working to advance human rights, education, and literacy, would have really loved to watch grow.

“I worked with him. He was a wonderful, benevolent and generous man who believed in his responsibility to support the community,” Brackeen said.

Rappoport and his wife Audre, founded the Bernard and Audrie Rapoport Foundation in 1987 intended to benefit childcare, education, the Waco community, and other enterprises.