Since 2010, the New Braunfels Food Bank has been providing food to families in need throughout Southwest Texas. With the outbreak of Covid-19, need remains high—but the group hit a speed bump when the usual location for their monthly food distribution event was turned into a vaccination site. Called the the Guadalupe County Food Bank Mega Food Distribution, the event had infrastructure, organization, and volunteers. What it needed: A real big parking lot big enough to hold between 600 and 800 cars.
Enter San Antonio-based Santikos Entertainment, which—together with development partner Fasken Oil & Ranch Ltd. and several other retailers in the Cibolo Crossing shopping center—offered up the Cibolo theater parking lot for a food distribution event that got food to hundreds of families.
“The cars started lining up at 4:30 in the morning,” says Andrew Brooks, Santikos Entertainment’s executive director, sales and marketing. At 6AM, the popcorn machines inside the Cibolo cinema entertainment center started up—along with the box of food each family would receive (“Each family there got an average of 167 pounds of food to go home with,” Brooks estimates), each person would receive a box of popcorn. (Over 1,000 boxes were given out.) Masked volunteers, including some from the Santikos family, began sorting food brought in by semi-trucks at 6:30. After hours of sorting, from 9:30 to 11:30 food was given to those waiting in line; Santikos, in addition to providing the parking lot and aforementioned popcorn, also donated lunch and drinks for the volunteers as well as offering up their bathroom facilities to volunteers and those working in line. “Those volunteers do not stop till 12 o’clock,” recalls Brooks. “It was the most organized chaos I’ve ever seen…There’s people working down the line, so the cars are coming through. Truck tailgates are being dropped. Hatches are being opened. That way they pull in, they load up, the hatches are closed, the tailgates are closed, and they’re gone.”
“None of this could have been coordinated without the incredible support from our local Cibolo PD and their amazing officers,” says Brooks. Along with the Cibolo Police Department, support from the National Guard, the Guadalupe County Sheriff’s Department, and the Shertz Police Department helped keep the “organized” in “organized chaos.” Says Brooks, “By 11:30, the parking lot was pretty much empty. The National Guard lined up single file through the parking lot and swept the whole area. All the cones got picked up. By 12 o’clock you couldn’t even tell anything had gone on.”
And then, at noon, after a morning of hard work: Santikos’ Cibolo location starts its first screening, as planned. “A few of the patrons that came in asked, ‘Hey, what’s going on?’ We politely told them [about the food drive] and our mission in general at Santikos—that all of our profits go back to helping the community… We just reminded them that every time you buy a ticket or a popcorn [at Santikos], those funds are going back to help the people that were just in this line.”
Santikos was no stranger to the New Braunfels Food Bank, which—along with the San Antonio Food Bank, of which it is an offshoot—has received grants in the past through the John L. Santikos Charitable Foundation. In the past months, in addition to providing weekly Covid testing and free meals to its own employees, Santikos has converted select auditoriums into blood donation center for the South Texas Blood and Tissue Center. “Everything was online, by appointment and time. That way, when people were done, there was the proper cleaning and sanitation. Last 2020, when we picked up and started working with them, April/March, we were able to get 977 what they call products of blood donated, which in our community helped save 2,931 lines.” Now the official theater partner of the South Texas Blood and Tissue Center, Santikos hosted five drives in January and has plans for an additional six in February, with others taking place throughout the remainder of 2021.
As for the Guadalupe County Food Bank Mega Food Distribution, Santikos has already committed their Cibolo location to host distribution events once a month from March through June, with each event expected to distribute over 100,000 pounds of food to between 600 and 800 families. The next event is scheduled for Thursday, March 4.
“There is a very extreme need” in the community for what the New Braunfels Food Bank provides—a need Santikos is proud to help meet. With Santikos being “in a position to survive the pandemic,” says Brooks, they’re able to “stay focused on our purpose, which is benefiting the community. Because we do believe the cinema experience is going to come back. We’ve seen it. We’ve been open pretty much the longest”; Santikos was among the first theaters to undergo a partial reopening after a nearly industry-wide Covid shutdown in North America, with select locations resuming operations as early as May 2. Until that recovery period kicks into high gear, at Santikos, “we’re focusing on the ‘why.’ And our ‘why’ is to life people up.” Brooks urges all theaters to work within their communities—where they have the bandwidth and resources—to “find small ways to get creative, to reach out, to lift everybody up. Because the cinematic experience is a communal experience. It’s about community coming together and enjoying a really fantastic theatrical experience. Any little things they can do to keep that top of mind, I think it’ll pay off in the long run.”