How one couple has made fighting hunger their life-long mission

40 Faces of 40 Years Jeff and Rachel

Jeff and Rachel Austin have been living out the Food Bank’s mission for nearly a decade. The couple started Tabitha’s thread in 2013—a service that provides free necessities for kids – such as shoes, clothes, and toiletries.

“We started out small, helping kids in Cass County, feeding a few families at Christmas or Thanksgiving. Around the same time, my pastor heard about a monthly mobile pantry with the Food Bank. I contacted them and hit it off with their team,” says Jeff.  A month after that initial phone call, the husband-and-wife duo held their first mobile pantry as a Food Bank partner, and it’s been held the first Thursday of each month ever since then.

The philanthropic couple say seeing the impact is most rewarding aspect. “We have a lot of people who only come a few times and then they get back on their feet. It’s amazing we can provide that service. It also gives us a chance to have face-to-face conversations to learn their needs and find out if there are other ways we can help. Having those conversations are so important,” says Rachel.

Jeff says those interactions have been critical to building trusting relationships with the community. “Many of our pantry recipients tell us they look forward to coming to the food pantry for that respectful conversation and respectful exchange of basic necessities.”

While they feel blessed to help others, Rachael says it has opened their eyes to the issue of food insecurity in the Heartland. “It’s pervasive. You may not realize it’s there, but it is. We help neighbors we were rubbing shoulders with in our everyday life. It’s the people sitting next to us at church, people we see around town. It’s these everyday people who are right next to us who need food the most.”

When asked why they are such strong advocates for food security, Jeff says it’s a no brainer for them. “We are so blessed. I can’t fathom someone going hungry or being food insecure.” Rachel agrees. “It’s something we’ve always been involved with—giving or buying food for people.  When we started at Tabitha’s Thread—it was exactly what we needed and what our community needed. It’s always been important to us.”

As long as there’s a need, Jeff and Rachel will continue giving back. But they say everyone has a role to play in this important fight. For those looking to get involved, their advice is to start small. “A lot of times people think they must do something giant. Find out what is the one way you can help. We found that when many people do one thing, that’s when it all comes together,” says Jeff.

Jeff and Rachel Austin are proof that when people come together—for a unified cause—incredible things can happen in our communities.