Friday, January 30, 2009

Shapleigh: Times are Tough in El Paso

Texas Senator Eliot Shapleigh (D-El Paso) noted the growing need for anti-hunger relief while visiting HHSC offices in his hometown last week. 

"When times are tough that has budget effect," said Shapleigh. "We will go into the budget to make sure that food stamps is funded, unemployment insurance to make sure there is enough to cover people when they've lost their jobs."

According to HHSC, offices in the El Paso region are seeing an influx of new families applying for hunger relief, straining already minimal staffing levels. 

"We have too much work and too few people," HHSC eligibility specialist Bill Howe told the El Paso Times. "I have a feeling that come April, it's going to bottom out, unless we've got available some more people."

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Obesity Growing In Poor Areas of Texas

A report released today by the Office of the State Demographer predicts that more than 15 million Texans (more than 40%) will be obese by 2040, unless public policies are enacted now. 

According to the report, the problem is worst in Texas' low-income communities, where access to nutritious food is limited. 

“We already know in those areas there are a lot of other socio-economic disadvantages,” said Pilar Oates, executive director of Methodist Healthcare Ministries, which commissioned the report.

Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, stressed the threat posed by obesity to the state. “It strains the entire health care system. It hinders our economic productivity. It drains our state budget,” she said.

Unsurprisingly, many of the areas highlighted in the report are also those where hunger is rampant. In both cases, providing access to nutritious foods is key to preventing future costs.  

Monday, January 26, 2009

Legislature: Get "Back to Basics" for Texas Kids

The following opinion piece ran in the Laredo Morning Times among other outlets:

"Last week at Hillcrest Elementary near Austin, more than a hundred children huddled in the early evening around steaming plates of rice, baked beans with ham, and plums all prepared from scratch.

Nearby there were board games, educational activities, and a host of tutors ready to help them with their daily homework. The program, one of hundreds like it supplied by Texas food banks, is called Kids CafĂ©. Its value is inestimable.

'I don’t know what we would do without it,' said Sara Guerra, Hillcrest’s principal.

Nearby Dalia, age 10, agreed: 'If you don’t have food to help you think, then you will fall asleep a lot, and you won’t learn that much.'

Another child, Nadia, 9, looked at her plate and shrugged: 'It’s my dinner because sometimes we don’t have food in the house.'

Down the road, the Texas legislature had just learned it was facing a budget shortfall of $9.1 billion for the biennium." 

Friday, January 23, 2009

Peanut Butter Recall Hurts Food Banks

Earlier this week, the FDA recalled all peanut butter manufactured by the Peanut Corporation of America, where a salmonella outbreak had been traced. 

Food Banks across Texas jumped into action, dumping cases of products containing peanut butter - a cheap source of protein for hungry families. 

The North Texas Food Bank warned its clients about 132 cases of peanut butter crackers that had already left its warehouse. "We have notified all of our agencies to watch out for it and to follow manufacturers instructions on disposal," said the Food Bank's COO, Paul Wunderlich.

Although the food banks' safety procedures likely saved lives, the incident reinforces the unpredictable nature of donated food. Food banks typically sustain their inventories with USDA commodities and purchased foods in addition to these donations to ensure overall quality.  

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Farm Bill Helping Texas Tread Water

Food Banks across the nation are facing a surge in demand, and are looking for new ways to fill their shelves. 

The High Plains Food Bank in Amarillo says it is feeding twice the number of families it served last year - nearly 12,000 households in all. The one factor that has kept some food coming to panhandle families has been the implementation of the 2008 Farm Bill. 

"In the Farm Bill, 67 percent of those programs actually go to help places like the food bank," said David Cleavinger, National Wheat Growers President. 

A national piece of legislation, the bill will provide $10 billion over five years to nutrition programs like food banks - but only if implemented properly. Part of the bill allows USDA to buy excess commodities from Texas farmers to give to food banks. 

Area Congressman Frank Lucas told reporters he wants to make sure everyone receives what was promised.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

You don't have to go to Mexico...

Video courtesy of the Capital Area Food Bank in Austin. These kids manage to describe hunger more clearly than most policy wonks. Enjoy!

Friday, January 16, 2009

$1 per meal? For a month?

Shocking as it sounds, one in eight Texans now rely on food stamps to make ends meet. This number is rising by the month, despite continuing problems with Texas' new eligibility system. 

But what are those one in eight Texans getting for their trouble? Last month, the Bush family in Tyler found out by taking the "Food Stamps Challenge," restricting their food purchases to the average benefit of one dollar per meal. 

"There was a definite psychological shift," said Erin Bush of the challenge. "You can see that when you're poor it consumes so much of your life. It's hard to focus on anything else. Imagine what someone feels who can see no end in sight."

Currently, Texan native Caleb is blogging his own month-long food stamps challenge. Now on Day 6, he writes: "Today I really started noticing a sort of scattered / forgetful feeling."

You can follow Caleb's progress online - better yet, try your own food stamps challenge! 

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Poverty Rises in West Texas

Despite their proximity to Texas' oil fields, West Texas communities are feeling the effects of the national recession, say local service providers. 

"We are seeing evidence that the economic crisis has finally hit the area," said Zack Wilson of the High Plains Food Bank in Amarillo. "A couple of car dealerships closed down, and more and more people are asking for help."

"We're seeing a lot of people who in the past wouldn't have asked for help," echoed David Weaver of the South Plains Food Bank in Lubbock. "We had a gentleman who came by a couple of weeks ago and told us 'if it wasn't for my (8-year-old) daughter I wouldn't be here.'"

These anecdotes are borne out in data from West Texas school districts, which show a surge in applications for free and reduced-price school lunches. 62% of children in the Amarillo school district are now eligible, compared to 58% just last year, according to the Amarillo Globe-News.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Peanuts Against Poverty

While anti-hunger advocates in other states might joke about getting "peanuts" from their donors, Texas is serious about nuts. 

Texas PALS (Peanuts Are Lending Support) - a collaboration of the Lubbock-based Texas Peanut Producers Board, Texas Food Bank Network, commercial peanut shellers, and the Texas Department of Agriculture - secured a donation of a semi-truckload of Texas peanuts late last month.

Participating food banks then ground the nuts into peanut butter, a healthy, high protein staple that is difficult for cash-strapped emergency food providers to obtain.

"This is a great example of how local businesses can help out Texans who are in need not only for this holiday season, but throughout the year," said Shelly Nutt, Texas Peanut Producers Board executive director. "A donation like this will help many, many people in our state by providing them with a nutritious, high protein food product."

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Every Child Deserves to Eat - and Eat Right

The following op-ed was published in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Brownsville Herald, Valley Morning-Star, Laredo Morning Times, Pflugerville Pflag, and by the U.S./Mexico Border Commission:

Pop quiz: Which of the following statements is true?

A: One in 5 Texas children is medically obese.
B: One in 4 Texas children lives in a household without enough food.
C: All of the above.

You might think I was joking if I told you the answer is "C." Sadly, this is precisely the situation facing Texas today.

Not only are child obesity and child hunger endemic in our state, their rates are rising. And what may seem strangest of all, these problems tend to occur in the same communities — sometimes even in the same households.

The explanation is simpler than you would think. (Read more...)

Monday, January 5, 2009

News Roundup: Hunger Rising Statewide

Happy 2009? Not for many Texas families. According to recent coverage:
  • In Tyler, the "new poor" are draining supplies at the East Texas Food Bank. Meet a newly poor family, the Moores.
  • In Dallas, the North Texas Food Bank is facing a $156K shortage needed to offset a 25% increase in demand.
  • In Palestine - where 1 in 5 households make less than $15,000/year - social service providers are seeing a "dramatic increase" in families asking for help.
  • In Houston, overwhelming demand has expanded the number of families relying on food stamps by nearly a third.
  • In Taylor, food stamps caseloads are similarly up by 30%.
A stimulus package being debated by Congress could increase funding for hunger relief programs and stimulate the economy through food retail. “Dollar for dollar food stamps are the single most important investment that can be made,” said Jen Adach of the national group Food Research and Action Center.