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Battling hunger in Bandera County

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

Photos by Judith Pannebaker
Wearing orange, “the chosen color of hunger,” Silver Sage Executive Director Pam Thatcher, Board President Art Crawford and his wife, Lisa, were on hand as Bandera County Commissioners declared September Hunger Action Month in the county.

Photos by Judith Pannebaker
Mario Blatto Jr. of the San Antonio Food Bank, located at 5200 Old Highway 90 West, in San Antonio, explained to commissioners that his organization partners with local five entities to help alleviate “hunger insecurity” in Bandera County.

September is Hunger Action Month – a time where nonprofits, volunteers, businesses and faith leaders across the country work together to educate, advocate and take direct action to end hunger. And, Bandera County is no exception.
During a regular meeting on Thursday, Sept. 8, Art Crawford, president of the Silver Sage Community Center Board of Directors, asked commissioners court to send a resolution to the Texas Department of Agriculture, authorizing a county grant to the Bandera County Committee on Aging, Inc. The $20,000 grant would supplement and expand the county’s Meals on Wheels program. The funding would be used in fiscal year 2016-2017 to continue a home-delivered meal program to the elderly, disabled or homebound county residents.
The grant, which is subject to adoption of next year’s budget, included an increase of $5,000 from previous years.
Currently, Silver Sage serves the sole provider of Meals on Wheels to county residents in need.
In a letter to Evans, Texas Department of Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller noted that more than 18 percent of this state’s elderly population faces the threat of hunger. In addition to Meals on Wheels, other nonprofits and governmental entities deliver hot meals to homebound citizens every day, providing 14 million meals annual. “It is our goal at TDA to support the work they do,” Miller wrote.
“We must do everything in our power to make sure our seniors and Texans with special needs never go hungry. This funding will help fill the stomachs and hearts of people who need it most, while providing them with the opportunity to live in a secure, happy and healthy environment in their own homes,” he continued.
Crawford said that this past August, volunteers for Meals on Wheels delivered 4,033 meals – “more than ever before.” He also noted, “For 57 percent of our clients, we’re the only person they see.”
Underscoring the need, Jesse Parks, had also noted that the Helping Hand Food Pantry had distributed more food in August than “ever before. At the end of the month, our cupboards were literally bare,” she said.
Commissioners unanimously approved sending a the resolution to the Texas Department of Agriculture and Judge Richard Evans thanked Crawford and the staff of the Silver Sage for “all that you do.”
In related business, Mario Blatto Jr. of the San Antonio Food Bank, along with Crawford, requested that commissioners approve a resolution designating September as Hunger Action Month in Bandera County. He wore orange which has been designated as “the color of hunger.”
As a member of Feeding Texas, the SA Food Bank provides food and grocery products to more than 530 partner agencies in 16 counties throughout Southwest Texas. Food bank distribution centers in Bandera County include not only Silver Sage, but also the Medina Children’s Home, Helping Hand, Boys & Girls Clubs of Bandera County, FT 52 Food Pantry at Faith Tabernacle and the Arthur Nagel Community Clinic.
Last year, more than 823,000 pound of food – with a wholesale value of $1.4 million – was distributed in Bandera County alone, Additionally, nearly 16 percent of the local population has been described as “food insecure,” which is defined as county residents who are “either hungry or don’t know where their next meal is coming from.”
In a presentation before the Bandera County Republican Woman, Bandera Independent School District Super-intendent Regina Howell spoke about how the district is attempting to solve the problem of food insecurity in students.
Fifty-two percent of elementary students qualify for the federal lunch program, free or reduced cost meals, which translates to 1,100 students, she indicated.
“Additionally, ‘Blessings in a Backpack’ provides food for students to take home for the weekend,” Howell said. Blessings in a Backpack is underwritten by local donations and distributed through the United Methodist Church.
“We’re so grateful to the group. ‘Blessings in a Backpack’ was begun in Boerne and we’re thankful they’re helping Bandera students,” Howell said.
Also, teachers have reported that when offered a choice between candy or chips and crackers as prizes for “jobs well done,” students invariably select chips and crackers. “That indicates to us those students are hungry,” Howell explained.
According to statistics, nationwide, one in every seven American struggles to get enough to eat, indicating that hunger or food insecurity exists in virtually every community in the United States.
Earlier, Blatta has asked commissioners to include an allocation to the SA Food Bank in their 2016-2017 budget. His request was backed by Crawford, who lauded the assistance the food bank gives to the Silver Sage food distribution program.
“If it weren’t for the San Antonio Food Bank, we’d be in real trouble,” Crawford said. During the last several years, Silver Sage food costs have spiraled. He added that assistance from the food bank enabled the Meals on Wheels program to “serve a lot more people for a lot less money.” Crawford said.
Additionally, 40 acres of the campus of the SA Food Bank is dedicated to a community garden that produces fresh fruits and vegetables to be distributed through partners in Bandera County and elsewhere.
“The fresh produce enables us to prepare meals that are more nutritious and taste better,” Crawford said.
Not surprisingly, commissioners unanimously approved designating September as Hunger Action Month in Bandera County.