Monday, December 29, 2008

Hunger Hurts School Performance

The link between poverty, hunger and poor school performance is well-documented, and sensible - how can children learn when their focus is on their stomachs?

A new statewide report highlighted in the El Paso and Fort Worth media shows how Texas schools must attend to the physical needs of under-performing children as well as their minds.

The number of El Paso children living in poverty between 2000 and 2005 increased from 34 percent to 40 percent, according to the El Paso Times. Only about 80 percent of these students passed the reading section of the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills, or TAKS, test.

Similar trends hold in Fort Worth. "If lawmakers really want to improve the chances of educational success," opined the Star-Telegram, "they’ll have to be willing to invest more in healthcare, jobs and other support systems for Texas’ children and families."

(See more research on the effects of hunger on schoolchildren here: 1, 2, 3, 4)

Monday, December 22, 2008

Food Stamps Rise, TX Cuts Privatization Ties

Last week the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) cut its ties to corporate giants Maximus and Accenture in a settlement designed to recoup losses and formally end their involvement in a new eligibility system for food stamps recipients.

The system, which has been sharply criticized by editorial boards, elected officials and advocates for the poor, is an attempt to use high technology and privatized call centers to substitute for several years of staffing cuts at HHSC.

Despite continuing difficulties in the new system (which one advocate referred to as being in "total disarray"), the worsening economy is forcing many new families to go through the application process anyway:
As the economy worsens, opines the Corpus Christi Caller-Times, "Texas, more than ever, needs a social safety net that works."

Friday, December 19, 2008

Texas Veterans, Seniors Lining Up for Food

A pair of articles from Central Texas this week demonstrates how growing hunger is affecting Texans that have more than earned their place at the table: seniors and veterans. 

Mary Kay Caldwell, a disabled veteran in Austin, scrapes by on family donations, food pantries and disability compensation. She no longer qualifies for other forms of government assistance. "I’m in the middle," she explains. "I get enough benefits to not qualify for food stamps, and at the same time, I don’t get enough to suffice. The pantries help a lot.” 

An hour South in San Antonio, 66-year-old Susan Jacobs lives on a fixed income, and can only watch as prices for food and other necessities rise around her. “My daughter in Houston said, ‘Come live with me,' but I'm used to being by myself,” she said. “I don't want to be a burden.”

“Social Security was never designed to be an adequate source of income, but by default people are using it that way,” said Jerry Williams, associate professor and chairman of the department of sociology at Stephen F. Austin University. 

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Dallas Squeezed

The down economy is clearly taking a toll on Texas' largest cities, especially Dallas. 
  • Demand for emergency food has risen 25% in recent months, according to the North Texas Food Bank. 
  • More Dallas residents hit by rising costs are now "living on the fringe" of hunger, according to CBS 11 News
  • Middle-class families in Tarrant County are turning to food pantries to make ends meet. "This is my first time I've had to depend on something like this," said the wife of one furloughed GM worker. "It's hard." 
  • The U.S. Conference of Mayors says a recent 77 percent increase in funding has done little to reach the 10 percent of Dallas' food insecure population that is underserved by current efforts.
"These are uncharted waters not only for our country but for our nonprofits," admitted Jan Pruitt, the chief executive officer of the North Texas Food Bank.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Hunger in El Paso Up 75%

Although hunger in Texas is concentrated in the big cities, it is by no means just an urban issue. 

Now evidence is emerging that need is up in the farthest corners of the state. Charities in El Paso are reporting a 75% increase in hungry clients this year, according to the El Paso Times.  

Monday, December 8, 2008

Sign of the Times: 1 in 8 Texans Receive Food Stamps

The number of Texans forced to turn to food stamps to feed their families jumped 25% in the last year, according to HHSC records. 

One in eight Texans (2.9 million) now receive this federal benefit, which is designed to kick in when the economy turns sour. Half of those recipients are children.  

This disturbing trend has been reported locally in cities like El Paso, Abilene, and San Angelo, but statewide numbers have been absent from a discussion in which some have claimed Texas is immune to the national recession. 

These shocking numbers obscure the fact that more than a third of the Texans estimated to be eligible for the benefit are not currently receiving it, according to the Food Research and Action Center. The group says this is primarily due to lack of knowledge and complex application requirements. 

Thursday, December 4, 2008

USDA: Hungry Children in Tyler

USDA Under Secretary Nancy Johner joined representatives from the East Texas Food Bank in Tyler last week to highlight the need for USDA's child nutrition programs there.

"Kids in East Texas are hungry," Food Bank Executive Director Robert Bush told the Tyler Morning Telegraph. "One-in-four children is at risk of hunger right now."

Johner called the press conference to praise the food bank's backpack program, which provides healthy food for children when they are out of school.

"We know that they have nutritious food during the school week, but on the weekends they often times go without food and the nutrition element is not always there," Bush said. 

"If you don't have food, you can't learn, and if you don't learn, you can't develop," Johner told CBS-News 19. "You won't be able to be a productive citizen to make it in this world."

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Ag Commish: Lubbock Needs Our Help

Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples surveyed the demand at Lubbock's South Plains Food Bank Tuesday, which has reported a 15-20% increase in South Plains residents needing food. 

Texas is third in the nation for hunger, "not a distinction we are proud of," Staples admitted.

"When you get to combine agriculture with our food banks across Texas, you know you're doing something special because you're meeting the needs of Texans who can't provide for themselves and you're doing it in a special way," Staples said, referring to state efforts to alleviate hunger.

Lubbock agencies are seeking help to purchase healthy food, which tends to move out of reach for families in tough economic times. 

"Fresh produce is really important for people, it's a high dollar item when you go to the store so it's a thing that a lot of people [...] set aside, because they think they can't afford that," said David Weaver, Executive Director of the Food Bank.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Big Names, Big Problem

To draw attention to the surging demand facing emergency food providers this holiday season, many celebrities (large and small) are stepping out of the woodwork to call for relief. 

The New Jersey Food Bank recently touted a full-page ad in the New York Times from none other than Bruce Springsteen, and Texas isn't taking it lying down:
  • Will Smith recently visited Dallas, making a sizable donation to the North Texas Food Bank and encouraging the crowd to "make someone's life better."
  • Ag Commissioner Todd Staples called on supporters to help him "end hunger in Texas."
  • Texas Senator Jeff Wentworth editorialized on the "soaring" food prices facing food banks.
  • H.E.B. served more than 250,000 Texans during their annual "Feast of Sharing."
How soon until Willie or Kinky takes up the challenge?

Monday, December 1, 2008

A bailout for the hungry?

As more and more special interests crowd around the bailout trough in D.C., one group could stand to have a bigger megaphone - the hungry. 

National advocate Joel Berg recently pointed out in the Houston Chronicle (and on Texas radio), that if anyone deserves a rescue package, it is the nation's hungry. 

"Just as it is unthinkable for the country to allow financial giants to go belly up," writes Berg, "it should be unthinkable to look the other way as tens of millions of low-income Americans (the types of people who clean the offices of AIG and Fannie Mae at night) go without food or shelter."

San Antonio TV reporter Randy Beamer echoed Berg's sentiment online. While some claim that Texas is "doing fine," points out Beamer: "With unemployment rising, the cost of so much of everything rising with it, and the price of gas hitting record highs over the summer, the Food Bank is getting more requests for help than ever before."

Congress can help immediately by enacting a second stimulus package with help for food banks and the people they serve. Not only would such stimulus be spent quickly and locally, it would go to those Texans who need it most! 

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

A Run On Your (Food) Bank

Think your stocks are taking a beating this year? Before drowning your sorrows in gravy and stuffing, consider the financial straits facing your local food bank. 

National press are noting growing lines and diminished supplies at food banks everywhere - and Texas is no outlier. Judging from recent comments in the Texas media, we may have it even worse: 

“Everybody that I am talking to is saying the numbers are growing and the needs are growing. ” - San Antonio

"We're seeing increased demands for our food in a way we've never seen it." - Tyler

"We've had people come in so hungry that we've had to feed them right here before they get their food." - Abilene

"Not only are we seeing more people come, but it is a higher income level of people, than it used to be." - Midland

"People are getting laid off, and they're asking for food baskets." - El Paso

"Between 33 and 40 percent of our families have been new. They have not sought services from us before." - Dallas 

"We're within about 30 families of saying 'Sorry, we can't help you." - Fort Worth

"We haven't seen as hard of times as we appear to be headed toward [...] we're a little scared about that." - Dallas

"The charitable community has to make sure we operate very efficiently to get through these times. Hopefully people don't forget there are others in greater need." - Houston

"The need is huge this year." - Odessa

"Our peak days are still coming up." - Fort Worth

What's it like near you?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

New Partnerships for the "New" Hungry

Noting the unique challenges faced by the Texas anti-hunger community, two major corporations revealed new partnerships in the state last week.

In Houston, Kroger, Inc. described a new strategy to support the victims of Hurricane Ike. The supermarket giant has agreed to sell $1.5 million of staple foods "at cost" to a partnership formed by the national groups Feeding America and the Salvation Army, each of which will contribute half the necessary funds. The food will be processed and distributed locally by Texas food banks, who received notable attention for their efficient response to Ike in September.

In San Antonio, the San Antonio Food Bank announced it was one of the first food banks to receive a state-of-the-art "mobile pantry" funded by Kraft Foods, Inc. The mobile pantry concept, which is being funded by Kraft at $4.5 million nationally, allows food banks to distribute food in places with little infrastructure, often in rural or hard-to-reach areas. 

"The face of hunger in America is changing," explained Irene Rosenfeld, Chairman and CEO of Kraft.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Dallas Hungry, Charities Brace for Hard Winter

Charities in Dallas are seeing fewer holiday donations just as demand for their services is peaking, according to the Dallas Morning News

"It's kind of an eerie situation: We see increased demand for services, but we've seen it all year," said Larry James,  president of Central Dallas Ministries.

Food pantries across the city report being "swamped" by new clients faced with home foreclosures and lost jobs. The North Texas Food Bank, which supplies most of these agencies, estimates that it has experienced at least a 25% increase in demand for food over the last six months. 

One client, Luby's cafeteria worker Kathy Wilson, says her paychecks just aren't keeping pace with the cost of living. "Everything's going up," she said. "It's really hard out there."

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Struggling in the Valley

Despite possessing a basically flat geography, Texas' Rio Grande Valley was named by realtors who hoped to draw newly prosperous, working-class families to land and weather reminiscent of Southern California.

Today, Texas' version of "the Valley" is one of the poorest regions in the United States - despite the fact that a majority of its residents remain working-class. 

One such resident, Nancy Martinez, is a shrimp-packer and mother of two who has been forced to use food stamps to make ends meet. She is one of a growing number of working families hit by rising food and fuel prices. 

"A year ago, it wasn't like this,'' Martinez told The Monitor while waiting to re-apply for the benefit. "It's not just the familiar faces now,'' she said, looking across the waiting room.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Houston, San Antonio Forgo Million$ in Federal Hunger Relief

A national report issued today by the Food Research & Action Center (FRAC) finds that despite growing hunger, only 51% of eligible Houstonians and 72% of eligible San Antonians are participating in the federal Food Stamps Program. 

This under-participation costs the two cities an estimated combined $198.5 million in annual federal aid that could be used to significantly decrease the local rates of hunger and increase economic activity.

"Cities have to do a much better job of reaching eligible people with food stamps," said Jim Weill, FRAC president. "Households are crushed between rising food prices and falling incomes. Food stamps are a crucial way to help."

Past opinion surveys conducted by the USDA have found that just 17% of eligible families don’t participate because they don’t want the help. Most are either unaware they are eligible, or don’t want to go through the onerous process of applying. 

In related news, 30,000 more Texans receiving food stamps were transferred to the troubled TIERS system this week. 

Friday, October 24, 2008

Schools See Jump in Hungry Kids

A sign of troubling times, the number of applications for free and reduced price school meals in the Dallas-Fort Worth area jumped nearly 40% this school year, according to the Star-Telegram.

Next year, Congress is scheduled to debate changes to this federally-funded program. In a recent public comment period, many Texas anti-hunger organizations expressed their feeling that these crucial programs must adapt to the new reality.

"Now is the time to rise to these challenges," stated a letter signed by twenty-one Texas organizations. "A well-conceived and adequately financed reauthorization bill, focused on the right program improvements, can do much to reduce hunger and food insecurity, address the problem of childhood overweight and obesity, improve child nutrition and health, and enhance child development and school readiness."

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Working Poor Rising in Texas

In recent weeks, two reports have noted an increase in working Texans toiling under the federal poverty line, a notoriously stingy measure of need equaling just $17,600 for a family of three.

The Working Poor Families Project used Census data to determine that 37% of working families in Texas are "officially" poor according to federal guidelines. This makes Texas one of eleven states where more than a third of the working population remains poor.

Most astonishing, these numbers increased since 2002, when the report was last published. "Both the number and percentage of low-income families increased during this period," said Brandon Roberts, co-author of the report. "This was a time when we had solid and robust economic growth."

A second report, released by the Brookings Institute this summer, found a growing density of low-income workers in many supposed economic powerhouses, including Dallas. Both reports rely on available data from 2007, and don't take account of the recent financial crisis.

Friday, October 10, 2008

More People, Uneven Food Supplies Yield “Feeding Frenzy”

At a time when the number of hungry in Texas and across the nation is rising, food banks are facing diminishing returns from many traditional donors, writes Foodlinks America.  

“Warehouse donations are essentially flat,” explained JC Dwyer, state policy coordinator for the Texas Food Bank Network.  

“Manufacturers now have a large salvage after-market [...] and large corporate brands have abandoned their scattered, charitable giving of the past,” said Dwyer. Many of these companies are now telling food banks "‘don’t call us to ask, because we have a system to determine when and where we give.’"

Based on national trends, food banks expect a 7% drop in donations from large corporate sources in the coming year. 

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Rising Food Stamps = Rising Hunger

On Monday, the state revealed that 609,595 Texas households - representing 1.5 million Texans - received disaster food stamps as a result of Hurricanes Gustav and Ike. This staggering number includes 150,908 completely new applications since Ike -  a testament to the severe need facing its victims and the powerful response of this federal program.

Even before Ike, food stamp levels in Texas were astronomically high. According to HHSC records 2.5 million Texans, 57% of whom were children, were forced to rely on food stamps in August - despite continuing problems plaguing 1 in 5 applications to the state's new eligibility system. 

While this bottleneck must be fixed, local nonprofits are helping families cope with the interim system. Summer Stringer of the Tarrant Area Food Bank, who helps families apply for food stamps, explained that many families don't know what to do. "For some folks, this is the first time through here, and they’re really embarrassed," she told the Ft. Worth Star Telegram.

Even the feds are getting involved. Recognizing that need is outstripping the delivery of services for these newly hungry families, USDA announced a $75,000 outreach grant to the South Texas Food Bank late last month. 

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Food Stamps Help More Texans, But Still Hard to Eat Healthy

Last month, many Houstonians made hungry and homeless by Hurricane Ike learned the hard way how tough it is to get food stamps. Federal rules for the program bar anyone earning more than 130% of the poverty line (about $22,880 for a family of three) from receiving help, yet many thousands of new applicants still lined up at HHSC offices following the storm. 

Helpfully, those who were found eligible are now getting a boost, according to HHSC's website. To help get storm victims back on their feet, Texas has received permission to increase the monthly benefit amount by as much as $331 per family. 

This is great news for those who have lost so much, as Molly Rueter from KLTV News can attest. Molly took the "Food Stamp Challenge" in September, limiting her shopping to the average individual food stamps amount (roughly $1/meal). What she learned was sobering - fruits and vegetables "just cost too much," she wrote "so eating healthy was definitely difficult."

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

State Declares "Go Texan" Day to Aid Food Banks

Today, October 1st is "Go Texan" Day, declared Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples yesterday at the Capital Area Food Bank. 

Staples' office created the statewide event to both promote local food and aid the 16% of Texas households that are food insecure and facing rising food prices. Participating restaurants will be offering special "all-Texas" menus, the proceeds from which will benefit food banks throughout the state. Consider dining out tonight!

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

A Line They'd Never Known

After Ike, thousands of Houston residents and evacuees found themselves without power or refrigeration - and so without food.

Within days, Texas officials made an emergency request to Washington to relax eligibility rules for the federal Food Stamps Program, our nation's front-line defense against hunger.

State offices were soon flooded with hungry applicants, and the system strained to accomodate the new rules and crowds.  Many were first-time applicants who never thought they would see such a day. "I got pride, but I got to swallow it," said Channelview resident Ron Schultz, who said he'd never applied for government assistance before. "I got kids. You got to do it." 

Schultz's stepdaughter, Monica Recio, echoed a common myth about food stamps. "I don't really like it because I think it's for people on the streets," she said, not realizing that most recipients are families with children. "But right now, we need it."

Many others who camped out overnight for help were frustrated by the program's stringent qualifications, which disqualified them even though they had lost their homes and livelihood. Galveston resident Catherine Fisher fumed, “Some of us have worked and paid taxes for 30 years and now we can’t get a bubblegum.”

Despite losing everything, families making more than 130% of the poverty line ($22,880 for a family of three) found they were still considered "too rich" for help. 

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Fighting Hunger with a 3-Legged Stool

In the last week, Texans from across the private, non-profit and public sectors have worked feverishly to staunch the flood of need left by Hurricane Ike, creating a 3-legged stool of support under hungry families.

Private: In the business community, grocers like Kroger and Albertson's have begun offering discount emergency boxes to encourage individual donations, while the Chrysler Foundation sent a $200,000 donation to the Houston Food Bank. 

Non-profit: Texas Food Banks continue to offer food as fast as they can, aided by high-profile appeals from Governor Rick PerrySenator John Cornyn and TX House Speaker Tom Craddick

Volunteers, from everyday Austinites to NFL players are pitching in at these charities, but the food banks are stretched to their limits as they attempt to fill the gaps left by government services. Houston Food Bank CEO Brian Greene reported serving 150,000 meals on Tuesday, with no end in sight. "I'm standing here on our loading dock this morning looking at a line of volunteer vehicles and wondering how long we're going to be able to keep them going," he said. Likewise, the Tarrant Area Food Bank is experiencing alarming shortfalls as a result of its relief efforts.

Public: Texas' public servants recognize the value of federal aid in a crisis, and last week received permission from USDA to offer emergency food stamps to disaster victims. Since then, food stamp offices statewide have been swamped by applicants, jamming the state's 211 network, creating lines hundreds deep in both Houston and Galveston, and generating 1000s of new applications from evacuees as far away as Jasper and Brownwood.

While each leg of the stool is finding itself stretched to breaking, thousands are now receiving help - a feat that no one sector could accomplish on its own.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Houston Food Bank "Overwhelmed"

While food banks across the state minister to the needs of the thousands who fled the Houston area last week, the Houston Food Bank itself is faced with an entire city of need.

Yesterday, CNN profiled the work of the food bank to feed the tens of thousands of local families stuck without refrigeration - efforts demanding 500,000 pounds of food each day.

The food bank is "utterly overwhelmed" said its president, Brian Greene. "It's a very similar situation that I saw following Katrina: when the caregivers themselves [are] victims, it just becomes difficult on a far larger scale than you would think."

Meanwhile, the State of Texas has moved to help by issuing energency food stamps to affected families as quickly as possible (12, 3). Worth an average of $93 per month, these benefits can be used to purchase groceries and hot / prepared food, which is usually forbidden by federal regulations.  

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Putting Ike in the Corner

The line of cars snaking out from the Capital Area Food Bank's parking lot this afternoon measured nearly a mile, as Ike refugees stuck in Central Texas continued to seek help feeding their families. Volunteers here have distributed approximately 2,500 emergency packages of food and toiletries so far.

Food banks across the state are doing likewise, but these charities are finding that they can't manage alone. Thankfully, help is coming from both the private and public sector to stem this tide of need.

In the business community, Southwest Airlines promised 10,500 pounds of food today, and HEB has already sent twelve tractor-trailers of its products to the Houston area.  

Most importantly, the state of Texas has now received permission from the federal government to distribute emergency food stamps to affected families (details). These benefits should last evacuees two months, and allow families to purchase both groceries and prepared foods - which are normally forbidden under food stamps law. 

High Prices = Low Nutrition

With food costs rising - and the price of healthy food rising fastest - low income Texans are running out of options to eat healthy. 

The Texas anti hunger community is fighting back with education and access. NBC 5 in Dallas recently profiled the work of the Tarrant Area Food Bank's Operation Frontline, which teaches families how to shop and eat healthy - and on the cheap. 

Meanwhile, Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples took a moment last week to encourage parents to sign their children up for school meals, our state's most abundant source of low-cost, regulated nutrition for growing minds.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Fighting Ike

Refugees at Small Middle School in AustinFood banks across Texas are gearing up today to feed what some commentators are calling the largest forced migration in Texas history. 

Refugees from Corpus Christi to Houston are traveling inland to escape Hurricane Ike, leaving behind precious resources and food.  

Food Banks are prepared to supply meals for up to 40,000 refugees in San Antonio, 20,000 in Austin, and 6,000 in Tyler, while the support of other food banks is being coordinated by the Texas Food Bank Network's presence at the emergency management center in Austin. 

September 10th is historically the peak of the hurricane season. For the sake of low-income Texans, let's hope Ike is the last of this year's disasters.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Social Media to Feed the Hungry?

For those who smugly ask themselves questions like "What do blogs really accomplish?" and "What is a Twitter, and why should I follow you on it?," here is a great example of the power of social media to affect change in the real world. 

Two weeks ago, Tyson Foods announced via its anti-hunger blog that they would donate 100 pounds of chicken for every blog comment they received that day. 

The web team at the Capital Area Food Bank sprang into action, reposting Tyson's challenge to their own blog and putting out a call for help via several employees' Twitter feeds. As tends to happen in social networks, friends told friends - who told friends - and by the end of the day Tyson announced the donation of an entire truckload of chicken to the food bank!

Watch a video of Food Bank CEO David Davenport talking about the donation. 

Monday, September 8, 2008

Hunger Doesn't Take a Vacation

As summer winds down, so do many programs that strive to feed low-income children when they have no access to nutritious school meals.

KETK in East Texas reports that the East Texas Food Bank's Summer Food Program is closing the books on a record year, in which it fed about 1,600 children per day. That's a 12% increase over the previous year, pointing to the increased demand schools can expect this fall of the USDA's free and reduced-price lunch program.

Luckily, Texas schools are helping families sign up for this federal program, according to the Austin American-Statesman. Unluckily, the skyrocketing price of food is ravaging the program's already strained budget, forcing schools to charge more and deliver less, according to congressional testimony heard earlier this summer. 

Proper nutrition has been proven time and again to increase test scores and lower bad behavior in school. When the price of food affects our ability to feed our children, what does that say about our priorities?

Thursday, September 4, 2008

85% Spike in Need Strips San Antonio Shelves Bare

It's been a rough summer in San Antonio for hungry families.

“In the news media, when there was a debate of whether there was a recession, I had no question. We saw it here all the time,” said Eric Cooper, executive director of the San Antonio Food Bank. “People are underemployed. They cannot afford the cost of food and their increased expenses.”

The food bank's fiscal year ending in June saw an 85% increase over the previous year, with only a 4% increase in donations, according to the San Antonio Express News. Likewise, 10,000 more San Antonians were forced to turn to food stamps this year to make ends meet.

The paper responded with an editorial calling on San Antonians to give, and reminding them that hunger doesn't take a vacation. 

“Even though we are not dealing with a natural disaster, we are dealing with a disaster nonetheless,” said Zuani Villarreal, the the food bank's director of development.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Hunger Relief Gets a Leg up on Gustav

The Texas anti-hunger community didn't have much of a vacation this weekend, as many agencies worked around the clock to prepare for refugees from Hurricane Gustav. 

Food Banks from across Texas rallied their communities to ship emergency "family boxes" to affected areas. The East Texas Food Bank alone delivered 26,016 pounds of food to 12 shelters over the course of the hurricane (12). 

Recognizing the central need for hunger relief during natural disasters, food banks were joined by students in Amarillo, GOP convention-watchers in Dallas, and even a Hurricane Katrina refugee to feed those fleeing the gulf. 

Now the real work begins! Just like Hurricane Dolly, first responders tend to draw down before the flood waters recede and the refugees can go home. Food banks are now looking for ways to provide meals - and especially snacks - to the hundreds of refugee families still stuck in Texas. 

Consider it part of your Hunger Action Month duties - if you have money or food to spare, consider donating to these hard-working orgs!

Update: As of September 4th, the East Texas Food Bank has distributed 34,765 pounds to Gustav refugees.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Hunger Action Month Begins!

September is Hunger Action Month in Texas and across the country - with an emphasis on "action!" Consider this a reminder that outraged blog posts and lonely RSS browsing and are no substitute for the real-world action needed to end hunger.

But what can you do from your desktop computer? More than you'd expect...
  1. Make it official with cardboard - Take a photo of yourself with a sign saying "Hunger is Unacceptable" and upload it here. See how many other Texans share the sentiment!
  2. Join the crowd - Sign up for regular advocacy alerts from the Texas Food Bank Network and Feeding America, the nation's network of food banks.
  3. Tweet up - Are you in Austin and on Twitter? (Is that a redundant question?) If so, sign up for a volunteer tweet-up at the Capital Area Food Bank Sept. 11th & 13th!
  4. Take the food stamps challenge - Are you in East Texas? Take the East Texas Food Bank's Food Stamps Challenge and gain an appreciation for the sacrifices that come with hunger.
  5. Not in Texas at all? Your loss. But you can find many more events in your home state here.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Census: 1 in 6 Texans Live Below Poverty

Despite an economic recovery lasting from 2003-2007, nearly one in six Texans – and nearly one in four Texas children – remain below the federal poverty line, according to new Census data released earlier this week.

These findings confirm that the recovery was one of the weakest on record, with costs-of-living and low wage growth driving many new families to poverty. 3.8 million Texans, 1.5 million of whom were children, lived below the meager federal poverty guideline of $20,650 for a family of four in 2007, according to the Census.

Although this data covers only 2007, evidence from Texas food banks and food stamp offices suggest that conditions have worsened since then:
  • State food stamp offices served 2.5 million Texans this August, compared with 2.3 million at this time last year.
  • Members of the Texas Food Bank Network have reported an 11% increase in demand over the prior year, and are now feeding more than 385,000 households every month.
Hunger is growing by every measure. That means it's likely that poverty is growing, too.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Food Banks Struggling to Meet Hurricane Needs

Demand for emergency food has risen across Texas this summer, and across the population - working families, kids and seniors are all facing the prospect of hunger.

Now add to the list hurricane victims, as food banks find themselves attending to ongoing needs when emergency teams from FEMA and the Red Cross stand down.

This week, the Food Bank of the Rio Grande Valley issued a statewide appeal (1, 2) for more food following Hurricane Dolly. While most first responders and shelter managers have gone home, the food bank continues to see a flood of need.

"Normally, our agencies serve about 517 meals per day in any given week, whereas they are now serving 3,255 meals per day," said Terri Drefke, executive director of the food bank.

Should private charity be our only safety net when federal efforts aren't enough? FEMA seems to think so, as they are now considering phasing out the delivery of ice following natural disasters. Meanwhile, food banks along the Texas coast are turning their attention to Tropical Storm Edouard.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Hunger Rising Among Texas Elderly

A report released today by the Meals on Wheels Association of America Foundation projects that the raw number of elderly Americans suffering from food insecurity will grow 75% by 2025.

According to U.S. Census statistics, there are currently more than 185,000 food-insecure Texans 65 years and older. Using this report's projections, the state is likely to face nearly 324,000 food insecure elderly by 2025.

Not surprisingly, the report finds that food insecurity among the elderly results in low vitamin intake and poor health outcomes. It also agrees with findings published last November by the South Texas Food Bank showing the primary causes of hunger to include low income, education levels and assets. "Controlling for other factors," today's report concludes, "seniors without emotional or financial support are substantially more likely to suffer from hunger."

In Tyler, the East Texas Food Bank is partnering with Meals on Wheels to serve the growing number of seniors there who have been hurt by rising food and fuel prices. According to KETK News, the program now has its first waiting list in 35 years, and has discovered recipients rationing food to get through the weekend.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Partnerships Fighting Hunger, Pt. 2

In another example of public-private innovation, the East Texas Food Bank has partnered with the federal Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) to tackle the growing problem of hunger among working families in that area.

According to KETK News in Tyler, children are showing up "in record numbers" at the Food Bank's summer meals sites - 1,600 more per day than last summer (a 12% increase). "We do think that's a direct effect of high fuel and food costs," said Food Bank Executive Director Robert Bush.

Thankfully, through SFSP the cost of these additional meals will be reimbursed by the federal government. SFSP is an example of a public program built to combine the large-scale efficiencies of government with the local knowledge and mission-driven passion of private charity.

(Update: new data from the Food Research and Action Center shows that Texas is forgoing $38.4 million in potential aid from the SFSP program due to under-participation - evidence that more partnerships between the state and local charities should be encouraged.)

Partnerships Fighting Hunger

The fight against hunger in America is a marriage between public resources and the private touch of charity. This arrangement - largely the result of imported English poor law that codified churches as the local hand of social services - was evident in the very first American soup kitchen, which was run by a New York charity using land and capital donated by the colonial state.

Today this public-private tradition continues, as nonprofits like Catholic Social Services and the Food Bank of the Rio Grande Valley partner with the State of Texas to assist those impoverished by Hurricane Dolly.

According to the Brownsville Herald, these charities are filling the gap left over when the Food Stamps Program, our nation's first line of defense against hunger, refuses those who don't qualify for its strict measures of need. "We are trying to help all those people that fall into the cracks," said CSS Director Sister Norma Pimentel.

At the same time, the State is recruiting charities like the Food Bank to get the word out about its efforts to replace the benefits of those who lost food in the storm. Many victims of the hurricane may also be eligible for Expedited Food Stamps, which are available much more quickly than normal benefits, and can help Dolly's victims get back on their feet.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

State Replaces Food Lost to Dolly

Today, Texas Health and Human Services (HHSC) announced a plan to replace food lost by low-income families during Hurricane Dolly.

By issuing replacement food stamps in five counties, the agency hopes to assist over 40,000 families left hungry by power outages caused during the storm.

Such efforts will make a huge difference for families living on the edge of hunger, for whom Dolly was a disastrous event.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Gas Prices, Other Factors Affect Delivery of Help

As lines continue to grow at Texas soup kitchens and food pantries from Dallas to Lubbock, these agencies are facing a new problem - how to reach those who are no longer able to reach out for help.

"We are drowning," said Judy Rorrie, director of Dallas North Shared Ministries. "The increased cost of gas and food is affecting everyone. Our clients are forced to pay for one thing versus another."

"The gasoline has people not coming into the centers," Syble McClain, director of Polk County Aging Services, told the Beaumont Enterprise. "It's making them homebound. Most of them are just overwhelmed at the cost of everything."

To help, some larger agencies like Austin's Capital Area Food Bank have begun "mobile pantry" programs to meet clients where they are.

"These are families that are doing everything right," said Lyn Garcia of the South Plains Food Bank. "They are playing by the rules. They are going to work every day, but at the end of the month they just can't make it."

Relief for Hurricane's Hungry

A little-known fact about the "emergency food system" in Texas is that most families forced to visit the state's nineteen food banks and food rescue organizations are actually facing hunger caused by "chronic" conditions like underemployment, low wages, low education levels, a lack of assets or the rising cost of living.

However, the system lives up to its name when responding to sudden emergencies like last week's Hurricane Dolly. Across South Texas, anti-hunger organizations like the Food Bank of the Rio Grande Valley, Food Bank of Corpus Christi, South Texas Food Bank, North Texas Food Bank and East Texas Food Bank responded rapidly and effectively to help victims of the crisis.

“We are always on standby and ready to respond in times of disaster,” said Robert L. Bush, executive director of the East Texas Food Bank.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Food Banks "Desperate" for Supplies

Yesterday, KEYE-TV Austin kicked off a local food drive for the Capital Area Food Bank with a special report on the diminishing supplies squeezing every link on the emergency food chain.

“It’s just unbelievable the amount of people that come in,” said Bob Craddock, co-director of a pantry supplied by the Food Bank.

Food Bank CEO David Davenport agreed, pointing out that Austin feeding agencies are experiencing 20-30% growth in their normal clientele, most of whom are not homeless (85%) and half of whom (47%) are working.

“A lot of the families that our pantries and soup kitchens are seeing are first time families,” said Kerri Qunell of the Food Bank. “They’ve never had to rely on emergency food assistance before.”

Friday, July 18, 2008

Getting By on $3 a Day

This past month, the staff of the Capital Area Food Bank received an education in the daily hardships facing Texans who receive the state average of $1/day in food stamps benefits from an unlikely source...their CEO.

For the past four weeks, Food Bank CEO David Davenport has embarked on a personal challenge to eat on a "food stamps budget," only allowing himself $21/week to buy the bare essentials.

As a person with diabetes and a recent history of health problems, David lived the experience of many seniors and medically disabled Texans who count on food stamps as their only source of food. His experience, as he recounts on the CAFB blog, demonstrated the real-life tradeoffs between food and medicine that plague many food-insecure Texans.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

How Does the Price of Diesel Affect Hunger?

High prices at the pump this summer are hurting everyone with a gas tank, including the rising number of low-income Texans forced to turn to emergency feeding programs for help.

However, it's also hurting the helpers. In Austin, the Capital Area Food Bank is facing longer lines with fewer donations in hand, according to KXAN and the Austin American-Statesman, in part due to the gas pinch hitting would-be donors. "Some families that may have provided donations earlier in the year, because of the change in our economy they are actually seeking assistance," said Food Bank CEO David Davenport.

In Houston, according to the Houston Chronicle, donations are remaining level but the costs of transporting charitable food are rising. Many people forget how much diesel it takes to haul 35 million pounds of food, the amount distributed last year by the Houston Food Bank. Brian Greene, president of the Food Bank, said this year's cost to fuel the agency's 19-vehicle fleet will be about $160,000 — a 50 increase over two years ago.

Legislators Tap the Brakes on TIERS

This Monday, a Texas House and Senate joint committee meeting discussed the potential expansion of the embattled TIERS system to cover more families receiving food stamps.

Following HHSC testimony on the planned rollout to more than a million more needy Texans, several public commenters asked the committee to consider implementing enhanced benchmarks before allowing the expansion, including a focus on the all-important federal law mandating timeliness.

Committee members, whose reaction to the plans ran the gamut from "concern" to "shock," asked HHSC to produce details of how the system would integrate new cases without exposing these vulnerable populations to TIERS' well-publicized problems.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Rising Prices + Sagging Economy = Bare Shelves

Today newspapers in two separate areas of Texas, the Dallas Voice and the Austin American-Statesman, published articles with a nearly identical message: demand for charitable food is up, and donations are way down.

Both are symptoms of the sagging economy, say those at the front lines. "I think [it's] indicative of the fact people have less to give because they're struggling themselves," said Capital Area Food Bank CEO David Davenport. But "people recognize there are people out there who've been hanging on for years and years now [whom] this economy's pushed over the edge."

“We’re trying to bring in more food, but it’s been a struggle just to bring in the same amount as last year,” said Andrea K. Helms, communications director for the Tarrant Area Food Bank.

The squeeze in supply & demand means less food for those who now need it, as well as pressure to lower the quality of food distributed. Said North Texas Food Bank CEO Jan Pruitt, “We are in a recession, yes...and that doesn’t mean just [that we need] more food, but more of the right food. Especially for agencies [serving vulnerable populations], the quality of the calories is very important."

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Texas' Trouble with Timeliness

For those following the slow-motion implementation of TIERS, Texas' new social services enrollment system, yesterday was another step forward - although not a wholly positive one, according to the Dallas Morning News.

Since its introduction, 217,000 hungry Texans in need of food stamps have been transferred to TIERS, whose privatized, high technology was supposed to make life easier for everyone.

Last winter, however, half of new food stamps cases in the system were not resolved in the federally mandated 30 days, stranding hundreds of hungry families without food around the holidays and putting HHSC on the wrong side of the law.

Yesterday, after state lawmakers demanded accountability from the system before approving an expansion, HHSC released a set of nine measures designed to improve TIERS' performance. Not on the list? Timeliness.

"The test is whether you're processing cases in a timely way, and that's not in here," said food policy expert Celia Hagert of the Center for Public Policy Priorities.

Timeliness is a key aspect to fighting hunger. What would you do if your local firemen only showed up in time to fight half the fires?

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Shout-out from Hill Country

Many thanks to Andrea Ball, columnist for the Austin American-Statesman, for highlighting us on her peerless blog, Charity Chat!

(Update: We're also blogrolling with the best of them - thanks Texas Cloverleaf, Lone Star Democracy Directory and HHSC Employee!)

Working and Hungry

South Texas, like much of the state, has an enviable unemployment rate of just around 5%. Yet agencies like the South Texas Food Bank are seeing more and more families at their door in recent months.

The reason, says Salo Otero, Development Director at the food bank, is underemployment. According to KGNS Pro 8 News, while only 5% of population served by the food bank is unemployed, 30% live below the poverty line and have difficulty meeting their basic needs.

Why are they coming to the food bank? In short, wages are not keeping up with the cost of living.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Growing Hunger Prompts Charitable Expansion

Rising hunger among Dallas residents, especially the working poor and recent victims of the stagnating economy, has prompted a rethink of strategy at the North Texas Food Bank.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Trying to Survive "a Challenge Unparalled"

Philanthropists from the United Way and other South Texas organizations are calling the dual crises of the recession and rising food prices "the worst they've seen," according to the Brownsville Herald.

"These days, people are coming in because they have to make the choice between buying food and putting gas in their cars," said Carlos Gomez, Director of the Good Neighbor Settlement House.

Increasing demand and decreasing donations are forcing local agencies to come up with more recovered and unsaleable food, limiting their ability to provide nutritious offerings.

"Right now, the middle class is being beaten to death," said Traci Wickett, CEO of the United Way of Southern Cameron County. "What's scary to me is that at this point the problem is at so many levels. It's a paradox: at the time when we need the most help, support is the scarcest."

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

WIC Continues Move to EBT

Williamson County recently joined the ranks of Texas counties that have done away with old-fashioned paper WIC coupons in favor of electronic benefits transfer (EBT) cards, according to the Austin American-Statesman.

Proponents believe the switch to a debit card-like system will result in an even lower rate of fraud, as well as reduce the stigma associated with using paper coupons. A similar switch in the Food Stamps Program (now SNAP) in recent years produced a dramatic effect in both areas.

Williamson County mother GinaMarie Ruiz (pictured) knows that the program assists many young mothers like her. "The way everything is these days with prices going through the roof, it helps a whole lot," she said.

Friday, June 27, 2008

A Quiet Crisis...

Today the Houston Chronicle editorialized on the "quiet crisis" of hunger sweeping Texas, noting that preliminary numbers from the Houston Food Bank suggest a rise in first-time users over last year, "and their needs are more acute."

The Chronicle rightly points out that summer is hardest for families with children, as school meals are no longer provided. It also notes that only 60% of Texans who may be eligible for the Food Stamps Program (now called SNAP) participate, leaving millions on the table in Washington that could be fighting hunger and stimulating the local economy.