What can happen in a year…of service?

AmeriCorps VISTAs do something almost counter-cultural in today’s fast-paced world of scurrying up the proverbial ladder to bigger paychecks and positions of power. They take a year–or a summer, depending on the program–of little pay, full-time hours and few vacations to put all of their focus and energy on making an impact in an area of need in communities across the country. They sacrifice in order to serve. And it matters.

The Texas Hunger Initiative (THI) has been the beneficiary of dozens of VISTAs over the past three years, all focused on eliminating food insecurity across the state. These VISTAs bring passion, energy, fresh insight and distinct skill sets to our work, and we wouldn’t have the widespread reach or impact without them. In many ways, they are the face of our organization—the ones entrenched in the nitty-gritty, hands-on, relational aspect of our work in communities.

Today is the last day of a yearlong term for five of our wonderful VISTAs, and they are leaving us with a parting gift: meaningful reflections on their year of service. Enjoy!


CAMERON LAGRONE | THI AUSTIN | FIELD ORGANIZER

During my year as a VISTA,cameronteam I worked with Austin’s health department to conduct an assessment of food assistance programs (SNAP, WIC, Child Nutrition Programs, etc.) in the Travis County area. This assessment will be used to increase access to and participation in these programs. For this project, I had three undergraduate interns who worked with me to research and collect the information. I had so much fun working on the assessment, collaborating with the interns and writing a report of their findings. It was such a good experience to see a project all the way from development to reporting and know that I put so much of my time and effort into it. I am really proud of the finished product, and I am excited to see more people gain access to three healthy meals a day with the help of these programs.

I also worked with the Lockhart Food Planning Association to help with their Summer Meals sites. Each summer, the FPA hosts three to five meal sites to help offer free meals to kids in Caldwell County. They find the sites, coordinate volunteers and monitor the sites during the summer. It was a lot of fun to help promote and monitor the sites last summer and be in the beginning stages of planning for Summer 2014.

When you begin a job like this, everyone tells you to “fake it ’til you make it” and I learned that that is absolutely how it works! I encountered so many situations throughout my year (facilitating meetings, developing project plans and presenting to large groups) in which I felt unqualified or out of my league professionally. I learned that if you approach each of these situations with confidence and trust that you DO know what you are talking about, then people respect you and are so gracious when things don’t go as planned. And, after a while, it stops feeling like “faking it” and you realize you have become qualified and capable. If you are willing to try, you can learn so much during your VISTA year and come away with many valuable skills.

Even in a city as politically and socially active as Austin, it can be tough to identify the key people/projects to get plugged into that are really making an impact. Once you do, though, you are in! I loved making connections and finding out who is making a difference and how to partner with them in their efforts. Cameron3That’s why I was so happy to find the health department’s project and be able to get involved in the first year. I know that that project will make a difference in the overall health of the Austin community.

Any time that I got to do something for the first time – presenting in front of a large group, going to a meeting with key hunger stakeholders by myself, interviewing/supervising my interns, going to happy hour with key partners – was a highlight of the year for me. Each one of these felt like a professional/personal milestone and one step closer toward the professional woman that I want to be.

What’s next?

I will be attending the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin in the fall. I will be working on a Master of Public Affairs, studying social policy development and analysis. I guess I will officially begin calling myself an Austinite!

SARA MARPLE | THI SAN ANTONIO | HUNGER FREE SAN ANTONIO COORDINATOR

Throughout the past year, I’ve been working to build a coalition of community members willingSara to fight anti-hunger issues at the local level. There were so many times this year that I didn’t think it would happen or be sustainable or actually work. But now that my work is coming to a close, I can see how much of an impact has really been made. Our coalition isn’t perfect or all figured out by any means, but I know there is a good group of people who are passionate and eager to work together to see these problems discontinue. Even though I wasn’t always excited to work on this project, it was one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had and one that I will never forget. 

The most impactful learning experience during my time as a VISTA was having to live on SNAP. This wasn’t something my family members were exactly thrilled about, so it really pushed me to memorize the facts, and figure out why I supported it. It was also just a frustrating experience to see what so many individuals and families have to go through to get it, and then have to fight to make it stretch out for the entire month. I know we VISTAs are fortunate to get the full amount of SNAP benefits possible, but there was a month where I spent every last dollar of my benefits and fretted about making all of my food last. Not only is it tough for families to make the money last, but it can be pretty humiliating to use your Lone Star card at the register. This whole experience just makes me want to fight harder for reform and fight the stigma of SNAP. 

Coming into this year I thought I had a good grasp of the poverty issues in Texas and the rest of the country, but after hearing so many stories, listening to webinars, and reading article after article, I realized I wasn’t as knowledgeable as I thought I was.sara2 Hearing stories from people in San Antonio is what has stuck with me the most though.

One of my favorite memories from the year was getting to be a panel speaker at the Together at the Table: Hunger Summit last October. I got to speak alongside two other great women about our experiences with community organizing. Because THI trusted me enough to speak at a conference about my work, it made me so much more confident in what I was doing every day. It was also pretty cool to speak in front of other NYCCAH VISTAs that day, and afterward a lot of them told me how impressed they were with THI for letting a VISTA be part of a breakout session at such a big conference.  

Starting Monday, I will be transitioning into the Child Hunger Outreach Specialist position with THI here in San Antonio until the end of summer. After that, I will be attending grad school for a Masters in Social Work. I’ve been accepted into both of the schools I applied to, now I just have to decide which one to go to!

CHRIS RHOTON | THI CENTRAL OFFICE | CHILD HUNGER PROGRAM SPECIALIST

ChrisIn thinking back about the projects I worked on as a VISTA over the past year, a couple I particularly enjoyed come to mind. It was a brief, small thing but I had a lot of fun helping create a Summer Meals advertisement to play in movie theaters. I also enjoyed writing a blog post for THI.

Some of the most impactful learning experiences during my time as a VISTA happened whenever I got to hear Joel Berg, executive director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger, speak. He has a gift for getting people charged up about fighting poverty. I also learned a lot about how many different factors contribute to poverty and hunger issues, and how pervasive and comprehensive our solutions will have to be.

One of my favorite experiences was getting to participate in the Hunger Summit (the small part of it that I got to see, anyway). It was inspiring to be surrounded by people who are dedicated to making a change in their communities.

What’s next for me?

I’ll be on the corner of 6th street and Franklin playing the squeezebox. Bring your change! But seriously, I’m looking for work in a justice-oriented nonprofit on the East Coast. My wife and I want to be closer than 800 miles from our families.


AMY SATTERGREN | THI WACO | PROJECT COORDINATOR

This past week, I have been reflecting over my year serving at Texas Hunger Initiative as an Americorps VISTA. Unfortunately, I can’t quite say that hunger in Waco was eradicated because of my presence here at THI, but thankfully my team carries on that dream and strategic goal of ending hunger. I’ve learned and experienced so much. The way I see people, serve people, and work alongside people has been refined and changed. Image

For one, the language I use when speaking about those who are experiencing food insecurity or who may be living below the poverty line has become extremely important to me. I want to always be uplifting to those whom I am speaking about. I also want to be authentic, honest, and to divulge the reality of our country’s economic and social situation to people in a way that they will not only hear, but listen. Everyone is different. We see differently, we learn differently, and we speak differently. Everyone comes from a different background and has experienced life in a different way. But before I totally become redundant, because we are humans and (I believe) we were all created in the image of God, I am certain we all have the potential to come together and be unified. In this case, we organize around ending hunger. We can identify with each other, despite our different backgrounds, because we have all experienced some type of struggle. I’ve found most people generally want to help people amidst a struggle or hard time, they just don’t always know how.

One of the most important concepts I’ve learned this past year in anti-poverty work is to be strategic and effective in addressing the complex issues. I used to believe that passion was all we needed to eliminate poverty. Yes, I personally believe that love or call to do justice needs to be the driving force behind all that we do in this work. However, if we want to create a change in a broken system, it needs to be collaborative. The federal government, the passionate faith-based community, and everyone in between, needs to be unified to end hunger and poverty.  The strengths, resources, and assets in this country are incalculable—but our nation needs a reality check and a condition-of-heart check while we’re at it. Even more important than providing resources, we need to hear the voices of those who are experiencing food insecurity, because, as a brilliant, deeply-thinking woman once told me, “people are experts of their own experiences.”Image

Some highlights of the year?

With the risk of dog attacks and Regional Office bonding, summer and afterschool meals flyers were canvassed across Waco neighborhoods. I got to witness passionate, invested individuals fight hunger in the community of Marlin through commitment and collaboration. The documentary, A Place at the Table, was screened for hundreds of people in Waco this year through community events and the Baylor Line camp. (Seeing it four times was enough for me, but I’d recommend it in a heartbeat.) I highly valued the partnership we’ve had with the Waco McLennan County Public Health District. In collaboration with an MSW class at Baylor, the Health District will generate a report comparing the availability and prices of fresh foods in grocery stores and corner stores. For the qualitative piece of this ongoing food desert project, I got to hear from over 75 community members about their experiences with access to healthy food in Waco. I learned that the words “food insecurity” and “hunger” are not necessarily terminology to just be thrown around. For some, it is a way of life. One man told me that “if you mismanage your money one week—you just don’t eat.”

 My hope is that everyone who has been privileged to never experience the impact that poverty has on health, education, and home life will never turn away from the reality of poverty in our country. My other hope is that those who are experiencing poverty will one day be able to work hard, to earn fair wages, and to have a food-secure home. As I move on to get my Master in Social Work here at Baylor this next fall, I’m thankful for this experience as my foundation. Professional life for this kid is just beginning, but Christ has laid a passion for people on my heart since I was a child. I’m thankful for those I’ve worked alongside (my office mates, people in our community, and people across the nation). I’m honored to continue this work and to have the opportunity to spread God’s desire for those who are struggling to be cared for, defended, encouraged, and loved.

ASHLEY YEAMAN | THI CENTRAL OFFICE | SOCIAL MEDIA & COMMUNICATIONS COORDINATORAshleyYeaman

As the social media and communications coordinator for THI, I had the opportunity to be involved with many exciting projects. I helped create THI’s first-ever social media photo contest, called “TwEAT Your Breakfast,” and designed the program for THI’s annual hunger summit in October. Most recently, I designed the 116-page Texas School Breakfast Report Card. It was a huge project, but well worth it! I gained a lot of valuable experience in communications through my work this year.

Something I’ve discovered this year is that I’m passionate about using my communication and design skills in the nonprofit world. It’s so rewarding knowing that what I do can make a difference (even if it’s small).

What else did I learn?

Because VISTAs are given a small stipend, I used SNAP benefits during my term. I found them to be such a lifeline for me, especially when I had some unexpected  medical expenses in the fall. Having that experience has opened my eyes to how food insecurity Iooks in America. 

One of the funniest assignments I was given over the past year required me to enlarge a photo our director on my laptop, and draw hair on his head using Photoshop. He had a buzz cut at the time of the photo and there were some sparse spots, and we needed to use the photo for a website banner. :)

Where am I off to now?

I’m exited to say that I will be staying on at the THI Central Office as the social media and communications specialist! Looking forward to continuing to work with this wonderful team!


If you’re interested in joining the fight against hunger by serving as a AmeriCorps Vista for the summer or for a yearlong term, visit the THI website to learn more. (The deadline to apply to be a Summer VISTA is April 3).

Too Hungry to Concentrate: THI releases report to help Texas schools navigate breakfast program access

By Jordan Corona, Baylor University senior and journalism major

Hunger pangs are mean things.

Stomach it. Swallow it. Close your eyes. Try to block out all of your thoughts. At least when you’re thinking of nothing it doesn’t hurt as much. It’s hard though, because, right now, all you really want to think about is food. But you know that if you let your mind drift to thoughts about a piece of fruit or a hot meal, you’ll never get it back. Forget concentrating on what your history teacher is saying; all you can bear to do is think about nothing.

This inner dialogue is far too familiar for many students in Texas.6539882321_8e2410c99c_o

“When a child is hungry, they really can’t think about anything else,” said Shelly Lyles, a third-grade teacher at Fairfield Elementary School in Fairfield, Texas. “They can’t focus, they can’t pay attention. I mean, those are our basic needs in life: food, shelter and clothing.”

The Atascosa River and Bonita Creek intersect at the south Texas town of Pleasanton, about a 30-minute drive outside of San Antonio. Even in a town with a name like Pleasanton, many families do not have enough resources to be sure about their next meal or to know if they can afford breakfast the next day. Many times, not having enough manifests itself when children from those households are too hungry to concentrate on their schoolwork.

Today, nearly 65 percent of the students in the Pleasanton Independent School District qualify for and receive free and reduced-price lunch.

But the morning ticks away all too slowly for a child waiting for lunch—the first meal of the day.

“When you’re hungry, you can’t concentrate on what’s in front of you,” Keri Cooper, principal at Pleasanton Elementary School said.

Cooper began her work at the school more than five years ago as a counselor.

She said children often feel ashamed when they’re hungry in class. They feel separated from other students for not having enough to eat.

But things can get better.

Breakfast in the Classroom

Pleasanton Elementary, like the six other schools in its district, provides free breakfast for every student every morning, every day.

First and second graders at Pleasanton Elementary School like to eat pigs-in-a-blanket for breakfast. Every morning, two students from every class retrieve a rolling cooler with the class’s morning meals inside.kids eating in classroom

“The students eat their breakfast while they listen to the announcements at 8:15,” Cooper said. Once class begins, cafeteria workers collect the coolers and any trash and take them away.

“We can at least be sure every student is getting two nutritious meals a day,” Cooper said.

For at least for most of a day, hungry students at Pleasanton Elementary have enough to eat.

The public school system is wide enough and structured enough to help make things better for children all over the state. What’s missing, by and large, are informed critiques of individual district practices.

Universal and Free

“Breakfast is extremely important because students who eat in the morning, are more active, participate more readily and tend to have few disciplinary issues,” Christine Sanchez, director for food and nutritional services at Pleasanton ISD, said.

The universal-free breakfast program in Pleasanton is three years in the works. Sanchez said the change from the former way of doing things went over easily.

In Texas, students whose homes are food insecure qualify for help affording lunch. Of those who need free and reduced-priced lunches to stay fueled during the day, approximately 45 percent partake in their school’s breakfast.

“It was more cost effective when all the students participated, given the districts free and reduced-price lunch numbers,” Sanchez said.

Part of Sanchez’s work pooling support from the proper school officials meant she needed to show how the district’s normal breakfast program operation could be better. She said most of the data she relied on three years ago, before she knew about THI’s annual school breakfast report, was sparse and had a very national scope.

In the past, there just wasn’t enough readily accessible data about school breakfast programs in Texas to license the sort of change on the sort of scale that would make the system better.

Texas School Breakfast Report Card

But a concerted effort to make that information more accessible just rolled off the press—for the second time—this spring.

The Texas Hunger Initiative’s Texas School Breakfast Report Card is a resource of explanation about Texas child hunger, successful breakfast program models and state-level data.SBRC Cover

The publication contributes to a dialogue about improving childhood nutrition using the public school infrastructure. It is complete with success stories and practical models to improve the current rate of school breakfast participation in Texas.

“Data can be a powerful tool to educate decision makers,” Kathy Krey, THI’s director of research, said.

The tables in the appendix articulate two very important objectives—where Texas schools are and where they could be in the fight against hunger.

But the concepts are pretty powerless printed and packed in their pages. The power to change the state’s school breakfast system for the better is a matter of understanding and response.

What is a right response?

Food insecurity is complicated. In the context of Texas public schools, however, breakfast is really a matter of access. What keeps hungry students from having enough to eat?

The Texas Hunger Initiative is a proponent of universal-free breakfast program models because they reduce access barriers, ensuring there is enough to make living better.

Pleasanton schools, for example, found that giving everyone free breakfast was more efficient than other distributive procedures, which inadvertently made a spectacle of other students’ need.

Ultimately, poor nutrition programs are only indicative of greater, more systemic problems. If we can maximize the school system’s infrastructure and influence against childhood hunger then better practices will come. For that, advocates have an obligation to the reality of the way things are in today’s system—both the inefficiencies and the victories.

And to that end, the Texas School Breakfast Report Card paints a much clearer and more complete picture of how Texas students are fed, and it continues to be a step in the direction toward making things better.

To learn more about what your school can do to overcome barriers to school breakfast participation in your district, take a look at pages 9 – 19 in the Texas School Breakfast Report Card or contact a THI Child Hunger Outreach Specialist in your area.


Photo 1 by Flickr user USDAgov. http://ow.ly/tZYU0
Photo 2 by Flickr user USDAgov. http://ow.ly/u06pY

Perceptions of Poverty

My family and I lived in San Antonio’s West Side for about five years before returning to Waco nearly four years ago so I could work for Baylor University. While we lived in San Antonio, the West Side community had approximately 150,000 documented residents and a median income of $19,000 per household. Families often had three generations living together in one household to defray expenses or to allow middle-aged children to care for elderly parents. If they weren’t retired, our neighbors were all employed and typically worked in the service industry along the San Antonio Riverwalk.

One neighbor in particular left an indelible mark on our family. Her name was Josie and she truly embodied the spirit of Jesus’ parable about the widow who gave all she had even though she was in poverty. When Josie had a birthday, she took us to dinner. When we could not travel to see our families for Easter, she would prepare Easter lunch and scatter eggs across her dirt-laden yard for our children to hunt. When she went shopping at thrift stores for clothing for her grandchildren, she always picked up something extra for my children. She was a generous woman at the core of her being. She was also incredibly hard working.

Josie went blind while we lived next door to her, and she lost her job because of it. Soon after, a social worker was able to help Josie get a job at the Lighthouse for the Blind making military apparel. The city bus for the physically impaired picked Josie up at her house at 5:00 a.m. every day and returned her home after 6:00 p.m. Even with this job, she did not make enough money to pay rent for her 600-square-foot apartment, utilities, medications, food and other necessities. She worked as hard as anyone I have ever known but did not complain about her plight.

Unfortunately, the norm I have witnessed in impoverished communities throughout the U.S. is that people are working very hard but are unable to get ahead. In fact, more than 13 million working families with children have incomes below 200 percent of the federal poverty level. In Texas 78 percent of people living near or below the poverty line are working and have children. The poverty line in the U.S. is a gross income of $23,050 for a family of four.

America prides itself on being the proponent of the “rags to riches” story with many living the “American dream.” The original American dream, an idea discussed in The Epic of America, a book by James Truslow Adams, relied on one’s ability to rise through the classes according to your own abilities, regardless “of fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.” While many would agree this idea revolves around the principle that hard work is the key to success, there is a group of people in America that faces almost insurmountable challenges to achieving their version of the American dream despite constant hard work, a point that David Shipler makes in his book The Working Poor: Invisible in America. This group, as the title of Shipler’s book indicates, is known as the working poor.

Unfortunately, the extreme cases of poverty seem to draw the most attention. Stories about billionaires who rose out of poverty or people taking advantage of government aid seem to dominate our perceptions about the impoverished. These perceptions mislead us to believe that hard work is always enough to draw someone out of poverty, and conversely, if people are in living poverty, they aren’t working hard enough.

However, the reality is that the working poor face many problems that the middle and upper classes find much easier to overcome. They face food insecurity, an inability to access proper health care and often lack a college education, which many jobs require. Society often has preconceived notions about who these people are and why they are in this situation. In reality, it is hard to define what brought them into poverty because they all have different stories and different personal struggles.

One of the primary problems is a lack of disposable income. In many cases, more than one-third of working poor families’ money goes to rent each month and more of it goes toward paying utilities. The remaining money goes to food, leaving little, if any, for extra expenses such as health care. Disposable income acts as a buffer in times of need, so problems that would merely inconvenience a middle-class household become crises for working poor households, a point that Shipler also makes.

Shipler points out that when problems like a sick child or a broken-down car arise, the working poor must often either take out loans — conveniently offered by predatory lenders — or ignore the problem until they have the chance to fix it. However, waiting to fix the problem often leads to more complicated concerns. For instance, a child who is sick with something that would be minor if treated immediately could become seriously ill, leading to even greater hardships in the future. The inability to pay for a car repair may prevent a person from making it to work each day, causing them to lose a much-needed job. Loans often cause just as many problems, plunging families into increasing debt and diverting money from their needs. Loans can even force them to take out more loans, starting a vicious cycle.

Therefore, if we insist upon stereotyping families in poverty, let’s at least get the stereotype right. The majority of families facing poverty in the United States are employed but underemployed. It’s time to work together and move families toward financial independence and spend less time ridiculing working class families for being in poverty.


Jeremy Everett, Director of the Texas Hunger Initiative. 
Written with the help of Berkeley Anderson, Texas Hunger Initiative Intern

Developing a System of Accountability

So who is responsible for poverty and hunger? This question seems to be polarizing Washington D.C. and causing significant discord throughout the U.S. Most responses seem to be ideologically driven rather than informed by facts or personal experiences. So whose problem is it?

Democrats have long argued that the problem is systemic and thus requires significant government intervention and a strong social safety net. There are good reasons for this ideology. First of all, people are predominantly experiencing poverty for the same reasons in our country whether they live in the Anacostia neighborhood in Washington D.C. or the West Side of San Antonio. The problem is, in fact, a systemic problem. Without our social safety net our current Recession would have likely been a repeat of a century ago, and our current problems would be much worse than they are now. We learned what financial catastrophe was during the Depression Era, and we are wise not to want to learn the same lesson twice. So our safety net kept us from careening off of a cliff and did precisely what it was designed to do.

Republicans have long argued that poverty is caused by an individual making bad decisions or a lack of personal responsibility. They have also argued to let churches and non-profits manage the work because it is best done on the local level — where the problem actually exists. They too have elements of truth to their ideology. Sometimes people do make bad financial decisions or lack a sense of responsibility that in turn results in poverty. Also, faith communities and non-profits do meaningful work and are able to do so, in part, because they are able to address the problem locally.

We as a nation cannot agree upon who is at fault for poverty and whose responsibility it is to address it. We are bent on it being one type of problem and one sector’s responsibility. The reality is that the problems of poverty and hunger are complex. People experience poverty for a variety of reasons: lack of education, health problems, lack of good paying jobs in their community, and even bad decisions, to name a few. The problem is also too large for one sector to handle on its own. Faith communities and non-profits can and are doing incredible things in our country, but they cannot ensure that 40 million food insecure Americans have access to three healthy meals a day and neither can the government for that matter. However, we can address these problems when we get all parties involved to develop and implement plans together.

Right now in Texas, we have 5.5 million people who are food insecure. Nearly one in four children in Texas are food insecure. Fortunately, each year we have almost $15 billion in public and private allocated resources to address the problem. We also have thousands of organizations statewide doing something about the problem whether they are food pantries or government agencies. If we all work together to build public and private infrastructure (which requires us to admit that there is a problem, the problem is larger than one sector, and that working together will lead us to better solutions than we could come up with independently of each other) then we stand a better chance of identifying duplication which results in waste, and identifying the gaps where children and, too often the elderly, go unnoticed and thus go hungry. Therefore we develop a system of mutual accountability which is able to address a complex problem with simplicity and efficiency.

- Written by Jeremy Everett

Director of the Texas Hunger Initiative

This post can be found on the Huffington Post Website

The Role of Partisanship towards Hunger

Baylor University had the privilege of talking to Congressmen Chet Edwards on April 17, 2012. His lecture , “What is Wrong With America,” was inspirational and displayed a transparent view of US politics which informed the audience on what was going on in Capitol Hill leaving political jargon aside. A diverse representation of each and every generation filled Baylor University’s Bennett Auditorium. He instilled an inspiration for a better America leaving the audience with a desire not only to influence change, but to go out and achieve it.

Congressmen Edwards’ strongest emphasis was the growing partisan divide between Democrats and Republicans. Edwards is not the first (or only) to claim that partisanship remains the strongest it has been in American history since the Civil War.  The role of media takes responsibility in continuing to fuel this growing animosity. By tailoring their content to reflect one-side of the story rather than presenting an unbiased opinion, the “right-wing” Fox News and the “left-wing” MSNBC have consistently failed to identify actual news. As a result, many of us have noticed news networks have turned more into reality television rather than relevant content.

Unfortunately, the growing partisanship comes with additional consequences. Both Democrats and Republicans are failing to reach common ground on a variety of issues including hunger.  Currently, Texas ranks second in food insecurity in the US with nearly 1 out of every 5 Texans living in poverty. Only half of the people eligible for SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) are taking advantage of its benefits. The obligations we have to provide for our families and the responsibilities we have for our children cannot be so carelessly overlooked. With the proposed budget cut from the House Committee, SNAP faces huge budgetary cuts. This blow could be devastating to the families that rely on this program to get back on their feet and provide for themselves.

Congressman Paul Ryan’s budget changes SNAP/Food Stamps into a block grant program rather than an entitlement program. Ryan believes that this protects the safety net from becoming a “hammock,” a common misconception. Currently SNAP remains an “entitlement program” therefore the assistance it provides guarantees access to benefits based on established rights or by legislation. A block grant is a large sum of money granted by the national government to a regional government with only general provisions as to the way it is to be spent. This would drastically reduce the number of people eligible receive SNAP, as well as reduce the already small amount of money they receive. The House budget includes $4.6 trillion in tax cuts targeting social programs and denial of health insurance coverage to millions under health reform.

“Stigma associated with the SNAP program has led to several common misconceptions about how the program works and who receives the benefits. For instance, many Americans believe that the majority of SNAP benefits go towards people who could be working. In fact, more than half of SNAP recipients are children or the elderly. For the remaining working-age individuals, many of them are currently employed. At least forty percent of all SNAP beneficiaries live in a household with earnings. At the same time, the majority of SNAP households do not receive cash welfare benefits (around 10% receive cash welfare), with increasing numbers of SNAP beneficiaries obtaining their primary source of income from employment.” (SNAP to Health)

http://www.snaptohealth.org/snap/snap-frequently-asked-questions/

We’ve continued to hear the growing animosity and bickering between both parties, but when do we put our political differences aside and come together for a simple necessity like feeding a hungry child. Partisanship has taken a deeper foothold in our country; in our current society we watch the news that we want to watch, and are less open to new ideas, or even to listening to different view points on key issues. As a result hunger has been steadily pushed back on the agenda and failed to grasp the attention of policymakers and citizens alike.

-Written by Tariq Thowfeek

Communications Coordinator  for THI

Farm Bill Proposal Would Cut $4 Billion from SNAP, Resulting in Lost Meals for Struggling Americans

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact:  Etienne Melcher, 202.986.2200 x3012

Washington, D.C. – April 26 – The Farm Bill proposal passed today by the Senate Agriculture Committee includes a $4.49 billion cut to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) by limiting states’ ability to operate “Heat and Eat” policies.

“With millions of people struggling to pay for food, housing, health, and energy costs in this tough economy, the nation’s safety net must be strengthened — not cut. Today’s vote means less food in the refrigerator for struggling families,” said FRAC President Jim Weill. “Attempts to dismiss such cuts as ‘accounting’ fixes obscures the fact that it is a cut in benefits with real impact on people and their ability to purchase food.”

Weill also noted recent polling data, which found widespread support for SNAP. Seventy-seven percent of voters said that cutting SNAP would be the wrong way to reduce government spending. “Americans recognize that SNAP works. Congress must stop these attempts to shred our safety net, and instead tackle hunger with the zeal that the situation – and that the public – demand,” said Weill.

Many low-income Americans face an impossible choice between paying for food or paying for energy, but “Heat and Eat” coordinates SNAP and the Low-Income Household Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) to help them afford both. Currently, the District of Columbia and 14 states (Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin) implement “Heat and Eat” policies, with California soon to join them. These states’ LIHEAP agencies provide small cash LIHEAP benefits directly to SNAP households. This targeted LIHEAP benefit helps meet LIHEAP’s requirement for outreach, simplifies the SNAP shelter deduction calculation, and, by increasing SNAP benefits to more realistic levels, alleviates some of the untenable “heat or eat” choices that households face.

Limiting SNAP “Heat and Eat” could trigger sizable reductions in monthly SNAP benefits for many households – an estimated $90 loss in benefits for households.

“Cutting SNAP this way means lost meals for hungry Americans,” concluded Weill. “This cut is at odds with every bipartisan deficit proposal discussed over the past year, including the Budget Control Act which protected SNAP from cuts. Bipartisan groups such as Simpson-Bowles, Domenici-Rivlin, and the Gang of Six have recognized that it is a fundamental mistake to cut SNAP.”

This post was taken from FRAC.org

http://org2.democracyinaction.org/o/5118/p/salsa/web/common/public/content?content_item_KEY=10063

THI in Dallas | National School Breakfast Week

As part of National School Breakfast week, Texas Hunger Initiative partnered up with Dallas Independent School District along with a few other organizations to talk about the importance of breakfast. Often regarded as the most important meal of the day, we believe (and studies prove) that children who eat breakfast are more attentive in the classroom and display an increase in participation.

Why eat a proper breakfast anyway?

Breakfast is a great way to give the body the refueling it needs. Kids who eat breakfast tend to eat healthier overall and are more likely to participate in physical activities — two great ways to help maintain a healthy weight.

Skipping breakfast can make kids feel tired, restless, or irritable. In the morning, their bodies need to refuel for the day ahead after going without food for 8 to 12 hours during sleep. Their mood and energy can drop by midmorning if they don’t eat at least a small morning meal.

Breakfast also can help keep kids’ weight in check. Breakfast kick-starts the body’s metabolism, the process by which the body converts the fuel in food to energy. And when the metabolism gets moving, the body starts burning calories.

Also, people who don’t eat breakfast often consume more calories throughout the day and are more likely to be overweight. That’s because someone who skips breakfast is likely to get famished before lunchtime and snack on high-calorie foods or overeat at lunch.

Mary L. Gavin, MD, KidsHealth.org

After reading this entry, its apparent that numerous health benefits as a result of breakfast  have made various positive impacts in children, however getting them to eat breakfast will take more than throwing statistics in their face. It starts in the classroom, that is why Texas Hunger Initiative has informed many school districts about the benefits of serving students Breakfast in the Classroom.

For more information about Breakfast in the Classroom visit USDA’s website or contact Katie Yocham, Texas Hunger Initiative’s Breakfast in the Classroom Coordinator

THI in Austin | Texas Food Policy Roundtable

Recently THI visited Austin for the The Texas Food Policy Roundtable (TFPR).

What is the Texas Food Policy Roundtable?

It is a broadly based group of Texas leaders who have joined forces to develop, coordinate, and improve the implementation of food policy to address hunger and promote equitable, sustainable, and healthy food in Texas. The roundtable will focus on four areas of food policy:

  • Improving access to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as Food Stamps) to prevent hunger and help Texas families afford a nutritious diet;
  • Increasing participation in the Summer Food Programs so that children in Texas continue to learn and grow when school is out;
  • Promoting policy solutions to increase nutrition, reduce and prevent obesity; and creating a local, sustainable, and accessible food system for all Texans.

Overall it was a successful meeting that focused on a variety of topics. One of the first items on the agenda was SNAP outreach in Texas. It is a on-going concern that people are not registering for SNAP benefits that are in-fact eligible. One of the solutions that was presented was training volunteers to assist with registering potential applicants and additionally informing the public of SNAP benefits.

Another item on the agenda was Summer.

The summer months are an enjoyable experience for most, however for the families experiencing poverty “Hunger doesn’t take a vacation.” Many children below the poverty line receive free or reduced price lunches in school cafeterias, but what happens when school is no longer in session. Kids will not have access to the cafeteria for Lunch (and sometimes Breakfast) therefore the Summer Meals Food Service Program provides food assistance for children K-12 during the summer when they are out of school. Texas Hunger Initiative believes strongly in the need for all children to have access to eating a healthy/balanced meal. By supporting Summer Meals, children all over the state can go to various sites in their community to eat a proper meal when school is out.

THI in Houston | Children at Risk

Two of our VISTA’s traveled down to Houston this past week as co-sponsors to the “Ending Child Food Insecurity” Luncheon on Wednesday March 7th at the Houston Food Bank.

Kick-starting the event were presentations given by Dr. Bob Sanborn, President and CEO of Children at Risk as well as Brian Greene, the President/CEO of the Houston Food Bank. Later on we had Dr. Claire Bocchini the President of Doctors for Change and Brian Giles a Senior Administrator for HISD food services.

Dr. Claire Bocchini also emphasized the importance of physical education in the school districts. Many teachers and parents complain that increasing the amount of time students spend exercising takes away time from the classroom. however Dr. Bocchini explained that studies have shown that children that exercise 30 minutes to an hour each day will be more attentive and focused in class.

Concluding the luncheon was Representative Carol Alvarado of District 145.

The purpose of this luncheon was addressing a key issue of Child Food Insecurity in Houston. It is important to realize that Food Banks are the last resort when it comes to providing aid towards children facing hunger. They are the last possible safety net when no other options are available. They merely provide aid and assistance to those facing hunger and provide a temporary solution to an on-going problem. This luncheon stressed the importance of SNAP outreach in the communities and providing more meals during the school day to prevent children from facing hunger at home or on the weekends.

Recognizing a Positive Initiative

As food insecurity continues to haunt Texans across the state, folks in San Angelo make a stand and serve as a role model to the rest. A garden behind Fort Concho Elementary School has grown to provide healthy vegetables for young children and in addition teach the importance of self-sustainability. The original garden has seen significant growth in recent developments with the help of three VISTA summer associates as well as a donation of wood, topsoil and a grant from Share our Strength.

These progresses have helped build ten more plots (each 8 feet by 8-feet) adding to the amount of vegetables that can be produced and has continued to teach children the importance of proper nutrition.

Carol Rigby-Hiebert, is a remarkable co-organizer of the garden and Kids Eat! — a summer program that provides free food to children while they are not in school. She explained to the community that the garden’s purpose is simple, teaching self sufficiency. Many people do not realize that solving food security does not boil down to the production of food however it also must include access to proper food as well.

So what exactly is “Food Insecurity?” Texas, which ranks at No. 2 in the nation for food insecurity, refers to a condition within households lacking sufficient income and other resources to acquire enough food.

Rigby-Hiebert, who leads the group of local volunteers alongside local advocate Mary Herbert, is affiliated with the Texas Hunger Initiative, a grass-roots organization dedicated to stamping out hunger in the state. The two women strive to educate interested families along the way and hope the garden will be in full growth in the coming months.

Hunger is simply non-negotiable. The efforts of these two ladies should serve as an inspiration to others that seek to make a difference in their communities. Although the road ahead proves to be a long one, tackling this issue must come from the local, state and federal levels of government.