Friday, February 27, 2009

Lubbock: Gardens Against Hunger Growing

A rising number of Lubbock residents, stung by high food prices and the deepening recession, are turning to their backyards for nutrition. 

"Any kind of seed I can get my hands on, I'll be planting," said resident Sherry Pullen, who has grown several different kinds of beans and vegetables to supplement her economical diet.

The South Plains Food Bank, which recently reported a 36% increase in demand for its Kids Cafe program, is capitalizing on the trend with a 5-acre youth garden designed to supplement the canned food available at its warehouse with between 90,000 and 150,000 pounds of produce annually.

Roy Riddle, the garden's land manager, pointed out the irony of such hunger in a land of plenty. 

"We're sitting here in the middle of 5 million acres of farmland and we don't even grow enough to feed the people of Lubbock," he said.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

How to End U.S. Hunger

This week, Texas played host to Joel Berg, a nationally recognized hunger expert and Executive Director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger. Berg's new book, "All You Can Eat" is a blueprint for solving domestic hunger. 

"LBJ's war on poverty actually cut poverty in half," Berg told an Austin TV audience. "When government takes on this problem it can have results."

Berg's appearances in Austin, San Antonio and Dallas promoted local food banks in addition to spreading his message of government leadership to end hunger. 

"Trying to solve [U.S. hunger] with canned food drives alone is like trying to fill the Grand Canyon with a teaspoon," said Berg. "People have to call their elected officials and get them on the stick to solve this problem."

Monday, February 23, 2009

SB 944 / HB 1622 - Help Feed Texas Children

As the recession deepens and lines for help grow, charities face an impossible choice: reduce the quantity of food given to each family, or cut quality?

This same choice, vexing thousands of Texas families, has led to a paradoxical rise in both child hunger and child obesity statewide. 

Last week, State Senator Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo) stepped forward to address the problem. SB 944, filed by Zaffirini on Thursday (and filed later in the House as HB 1622), outlines a solution to provide Texas children at risk of both hunger and obesity with access to healthy food. 

The bill supplements existing state efforts to address child obesity through nutrition education and physical activity, providing the crucial "third leg" of access to families who cannot afford healthy options. 

The program will direct free, healthy food to needy families through existing systems (food banks, Kids Cafes, food pantries etc.) in order to avoid prohibitive administration & start-up costs. 100% of the money provided by the bill will be used to purchase nutritious food for children.  

Now more than ever, it is crucial for Texas to focus on the basics. What could be more basic than good food for our children?

Help make this bill a reality! Write your state legislator today and ask them to invest in the health of Texas children through SB 944/HB 1622.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Stimulus Money Will Feed Texans

Thanks to all who called their members of Congress! 

In addition to stimulating the stagnant Texas economy, the economic recovery act passed by Congress this weekend represents real relief for the growing number of Texans facing hunger. The act will immediately provide:
  • Food Stamps - $19.9 billion for the national Food Stamps Program, translating to a one-time increase in benefits of 13.6%. This will bring approximately $1 billion in food stamps benefits to hungry Texas families, and create $1.73 billion in economic stimulus here in Texas wherever the benefits are spent. 
  • WIC - $500 million for the national Women, Infants & Children (WIC) program to support increasing caseloads. Texas' share will depend on the number of new enrollees this year.
  • Charitable Food - $100 million to the national Emergency Food & Shelter Program (EFSP) , and $150 million to the national Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) , both of which provide food to struggling Texas food banks.
  • Senior Meals - $100 million nationally to Meals on Wheels. 
In addition to hunger relief, the act also provides $2.1 billion for Head Start programs, and expands the Child Tax Credit and Earned Income Tax Credit to provide greater tax relief to low-income families. These expansions will put disposable income in the hands of those who need it most, and are most likely to spend it quickly - helping Texas and Texans alike.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Texans Turn to Food Stamps for Nutrition

More Texans are turning to food stamps to battle rising prices that present a choice between less food - or less quality.

"It's not that I don't want to eat healthy or anything but I would much rather eat something than nothing at all," Angelle Mendez, a 34 year-old Texan mother told Scripps News. "Plus, it's not exactly the best time to be picky, I also have other people to feed at home."

To cope, Mendez has joined the 1 in 8 Texans using the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), AKA food stamps. 

Luckily, it is estimated that the stimulus bill now before Congress will send approximately $1 billion in SNAP benefits to hungry Texas families. Unfortunately, Texas has yet to embrace the new "SNAP" name, with its overtones of nutrition, and is still having difficulty with a newly privatized eligibility system that makes the application process unnecessarily difficult. 

Angel Reyna of El Paso applied for the program when he lost his job as a truck driver last year. He credits the SNAP program with helping him continue to feed his family while he looked for work, and now he's back on his feet. 

"You use it when you're down, and you start putting back in the system when you're up," he said.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Middle-Class Texans Need Food, Jobs

Media reports across Texas suggest that the recession has made inroads into the Texas middle class, forcing these families to visit food banks to make ends meet. 

In Tyler, the Pearsons are just scraping by. When Melinda Pearson's husband lost his job at Goodyear Tire last year, her family had no where to turn but the local food bank. "It's scary because you're used to being able to pay for meals," she said.

"I have met with my agencies, and they are reporting that they are seeing people they have never seen before," said Robert Bush, the president of Tyler's East Texas Food Bank. "They are seeing many middle-class people who, for whatever reason, are on the margins and needing help for the first time."

Likewise, the San Antonio Food Bank was surprised last week when it advertised an opening for an entry-level position.

“Close to 200 resumes came in,” said Eric Cooper, the food bank's CEO. “There were a couple of CPAs, a couple of MBAs, and many had bachelor's degrees. People were educated to the hilt.” 

That food bank reported a 79% increase in food stamp applications from 2007 to 2008, and a 27% jump in the number of families who received emergency food in the same period.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Baylor Initiative Seeks to Organize Charities

Last week, the Baylor School of Social Work announced a partnership with the policy organization Christian Life Commission to create a new statewide anti-hunger initiative. 

The Texas Hunger Initiative seeks to coordinate the state's Baptist feeding ministries with other charities and the 10% of Texans who are practicing Baptists to significantly reduce hunger within six years. 

“With some organization and creativity, hunger in Texas can be alleviated, and I think we’ll be well on our way to that within six years,” said Jeremy Everett, the project's lead organizer and a former community organizer in San Antonio.

Initially, the project will focus on identifying gaps in hunger relief efforts in El Paso, Val Verde, McClennan and Bexar counties. The strategy may involve public policy advocacy in addition to local coordination.

"The process we'll put together for the hunger initiative is the same one I used in San Antonio, and both use social work principles," Everett said. "Students interested in community development and community organizing will graduate from the Baylor School of Social Work with direct practice experience gained through this initiative."

Monday, February 9, 2009

Stimulus: House Needs to Stand Firm for Hungry

Late Friday night, Senate negotiators nearly stripped $20 billion in improvements to the SNAP program (formerly known as Food Stamps) from the much-anticipated stimulus bill. 

Luckily, national groups like the Food Research & Action Center and Feeding America were on hand to prevent those cuts - but other compromises were made. The Senate bill now differs markedly from that passed by the House, and most of the changes don't favor hungry families:

In general, the House bill is better for those hit hardest by the recession, and provides more resources to the best stimulus available - food stamps, for which every dollar spent yields $1.73 in stimulus. 

If your Congressmember voted for the stimulus package, call them today and tell them to "stand firm" for hungry Texas families! 

Capitol Switchboard: (202)224-3121

Friday, February 6, 2009

Texas Unemployed Need Recovery Package

This morning the Bureau of Labor Statistics revealed that the U.S. economy lost nearly 600,000 jobs in January, pushing the national unemployment rate up to 7.6%. 

In Texas, state unemployment data is only available to December 2008. However, in that month the Texas unemployment rate stood at 6%, nearly two percentage points higher than a year previous.

Texas can expect its statewide rate to rise even higher when January data is released, underscoring the need for a pro-active recovery package that will stimulate the economy and help hard-hit families. Tell Senators Cornyn and Hutchison that Texas needs this package now, toll-free at 866-544-7573.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Rep. Rodriguez Urges Food Stamps for the Hungry

On Saturday, Congressman Ciro Rodriguez (D-Del Rio) urged eligible constituents to apply for food stamps, citing the inability of food banks to keep pace with mounting demand. 

According to Rodriguez, Texas stands to receive a $26 million boost in food stamp benefits should the economic recovery package pass the Senate this week.  

“I feel really good that this is a good investment in our community and it’s a good investment in terms of getting people back to work and it’s also about what I call an investment in ourselves,” Rodriguez told local elected leaders.

Beyond assisting the growing number of Texas hungry, food stamps are largely seen as an excellent stimulus for the Texas economy. A dollar spent on the program provides $1.73 in economic impact, according to economists. 

“If they’re going to give out money, we want it here,” said Del Rio Mayor Efrain Valdez.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Stretched in West Texas: A Paycheck Away from Hunger

As the recession grips West Texas, experts  estimate that the average Lubbock family is just one paycheck away from financial disaster.

That situation is forcing many nonprofits to remain in overdrive. 

Demand for the South Plains Food Bank's Kids Cafe has increased 36 percent in the last year. "If you are hungry it's hard to concentrate," explained Parkway Elementary Principal Eddie Fitzgerald. "If you are hungry, you spend time trying to think about how you are going to have your next meal. So the programs that we have are very beneficial."

Nearby in San Angelo, academics at Angelo State University report a long-term decrease in that community's quality of life indicators. 

"Stretched!" Write the report's authors. "The word not only describes the threat of current conditions on households, it also describes the established trend of multiple pressures affecting the quality of life for local households. San Angelo needs to reverse this trend if it is to develop socially and economically."