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2014-12-11

Feeding the hungry - year-round need

By Carolyn B. Edwards BCC Staff Writer

During the season from Thanksgiving to Christmas, many of us reach down into our pockets to provide support to our local food banks. Bandera County's largest food pantry is the Helping Hand Center in Bandera. Some area churches also distribute food to those in need on a regular basis.
While our efforts to provide that traditional turkey with all the fixin's for those in need are certainly admirable, the people we serve are in need the other 11 months of the year as well.
Blessings in a Backpack, a nationally based nonprofit, has recently been established here. The organization provides small packets of food to be tucked into the backpacks of school students who likely have little to no food to eat at home on the weekends. And in fact, some of those students don't have a home.
Recently, Donna Foster and Roberta Himebrook of Bridelgate Ranch heard about the program from a friend and decided to see if they could raise some funds from their neighbors in the subdivision.
When they called program organizers to say they had collected $1,000, they were at first amazed to be told that was exactly the amount needed to expand the program in 2015 to serve 100 kids. After thinking about it, they concluded, "It's just God at work!"
It's easy to look down on the poor and say they need to get a job and quit relying on government (taxpayer paid) hand-outs.
If you read the Helping Hand column each week in the Courier, you will know that many of the people they help have jobs or just recently lost a job and are looking for another. Some are elderly, living on a very limited income. Some have simply been overcome with sickness, tragedies or abusive situations.
But let's say you are a single mom with two kids, one in school, one toddler. You have a job that pays minimum wage. In Texas, that means you're taking home $1,160 per month (if nothing is withheld). Out of that, you must pay rent - $700 per month if you are really lucky - leaving you with $460 for food for three people, car maintenance and gas, child care for the toddler and medical expenses.
Add to that the fact that many minimum wage jobs in Texas are also less than 35 hours per week because then employers do not have to offer any benefits, so the take home is even less than $1,160.
If one of the children gets sick, mom has to stay at home and loses even more pay for the month.
You may get food stamps, a stipend for child care, and some medical coverage for the children, but every month is going to be a financial struggle.
The US Department of Agriculture estimates that 18 percent of Texas households (one in six) experience food insecurity. Texas was one of just eight states with higher food insecurity than the nation.
What does "food insecurity - security" mean? Low food security indicates reduced quality, variety or desirability of diet, but with little or no indication of reduced food intake.
Very low food security describes multiple indications of disrupted eating patterns and reduced food intake.
There were 3.5 million people who received food assistance last year in Texas.
In Bandera County, it is estimated that 15.8 percent of our people live in food insecure homes. Of our children, 27.7 percent, or 1,100 kids, live in these homes.
At Alkek, around 400 students qualify for free or reduced lunches. Those would be rated low food security. About 100 of those are probably not getting meals at home every day. These would be rated very low food security.
In Texas, an estimated 10 percent of food assistance client households have no income, 46 percent have annual incomes of $1 to $10,000, and 30 percent have annual incomes of $10,001 to $20,000. Taking into consideration household size, 75 percent of client households have incomes that fall at or below the federal poverty level.
An estimated 38 percent of households report at least one member with diabetes; 61 percent of households report at least one member with high blood pressure. There are 71 percent of households reported having to choose between paying for food and paying for medicine or medical care at least once in the past 12 months.
Many believe it is a realizable goal to create a hunger-free Texas.
We can start with a hunger-free Bandera County.
Feeding Texas offers several suggestions for those who want to be a part of the solution.
"Give what you can, but if you have a choice, give money," a spokesman for the organization said. "Cash has a longer shelf life, can be leveraged by your food bank to purchase greater amounts, and can be meted out to cover year-long needs. Contact your local food bank to make a donation of food, time, or money.
"Speak up. Consider raising your voice to advance solutions to hunger. Creating a hunger-free Texas is possible, but only if we all work together. If you care about seeing your neighbors healthy, nourished and productive, then tell your elected officials to make hunger a priority."