Connecting the Dots for Clients

Each Thursday, The Shepherd's Heat food pantry opens its doors to distribute food to those in need in the Waco community. Along with their indoor storeroom, they also offer a drive-by service to those unable to physically enter the food pantry.
Each Thursday, The Shepherd’s Heart food pantry opens its doors to distribute food to those in need in the Waco community. Along with their indoor storeroom, they also offer a drive-by service to those unable to physically enter the food pantry.

This post is the first in a series highlighting the Community Partner Program (CPP). CPP helps connect Texas families and children to benefits to help them get back on their feet during difficult times. The Texas Hunger Initiative’s 12 regional offices help to recruit and support a wide range of nonprofit, faith-based, local and statewide community groups to become Community Partners, which provide individuals with the technology and know-how to access to apply for state benefits. Community Partners are making a difference, and we are proud to feature some of them here.

Shepherd’s Heart, a food pantry in Waco focused on serving neighborhoods in North and East Waco, began with a simple goal. “The thing that we started with is feeding people, and I think we’ve gotten good at that,” Robert Gager, founder and director of Shepherd’s Heart, said.

Today, the food pantry has become one of the largest food pantries in a 22-county area served by the Capital Area Food Bank in Austin. Shepherd’s Heart serves an average of 700 families each Thursday at its central location and delivers food weekly to 400 seniors who are homebound or disabled. Two resale shops help make the pantry sustainable. The clothing and household goods that are not donated are sold at discounted prices.

Along with food distribution, Shepherd’s Heart has a social services arm, Noah’s Heart, which seeks to help its clients in many ways, including applying for government assistance. Key to this work is As a Community Partner, Shepherd’s Heart uses to help interested individuals and families apply for benefits on site at its food pantry.

Just a few of the many volunteers at The Shepherd's Heart in Waco, Texas.
Just a few of the many volunteers at The Shepherd’s Heart in Waco, Texas. (L to R: Mary Lou, Pinky, Nick, Melissa and Orris)

Shepherd’s Heart also encourages other area food pantries and organizations that are helping the hungry to connect their clients to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (commonly known as SNAP), Gager explained. “Everybody’s not going to have the capacity to have the staff, the computers or the space, to create a situation [to help people apply directly online],” he said. But organizations like these can use hard copies to get the application process started, he says, helping them through language barriers and other issues. “Then those individuals can bring their copy here, and we can key it in.”

As part of its vision, Shepherd’s Heart actively seeks to make an impact in the community by identifying needs and finding resources to meet those needs. Its latest project illustrates that vision at work.

Gager said that a study from Baylor University revealed that a significant portion of the Waco community was living in food deserts, places where it is difficult to buy affordable or high-quality fresh foods. Shepherd’s Heart has partnered with Texas State Technical College to create an Aquaponics farm to provide fresh produce to those in need.

Aquaponics is a food production system that combines aquaculture (raising fish, crayfish, etc. in tanks) with hydroponics (cultivating plants in water). This method will allow for crops to be grown year round, with 10-14 harvests expected per year.

The project is just breaking ground, but Gager hopes that once it is established it will grow enough to feed around 2,000 people on a monthly basis. Half of the produce will be donated, and the other half will be sold at various price points to help make the project, and Shepherd’s Heart as a whole, more sustainable.

Shepherd’s Heart is an excellent example of how seamlessly and the Community Partner Program can be integrated into the work an organization is already doing. Utilizing quickly becomes a value-add for organizations. By serving as an access point for individuals to apply for and manage benefits online, Shepherd’s Heart helps connect people to important community resources and takes the services the organization already offers one step further. “We’re just connecting the dots for our clients,” Gager said. As more and more organizations join the statewide Community Partner network, it is becoming easier and easier for these dots to come together.

Shepherd’s Heart is an example of a Community Partner putting innovative solutions around hunger to work. To learn more about the organization, visit

If your organization is not yet a Community Partner, but would like to be, click here to find contact information for your local Community Partner Program representative. You can also learn more about the program and process at

A mural painted on the wall near the door at The Shepherd's Heart.
A mural painted on the wall near the door at The Shepherd’s Heart.

Texas ISDs Bridge Transportation Gap with Summer Mobile Meals

Waco ISD launched Meals on the Bus, a pilot mobile meals project, this summer.

By: Matt Chelf, Baylor University Junior and Share our Strength: No Kid Hungry Youth Ambassador 

“Thank you so much,” she said. “We would have no other means to get access to meals, but you’ve come this far and brought it to us. We can’t thank you enough.”

Many families across Texas, like the McAllen mother quoted above, are grateful this summer, because their children have access to food, which can be a hot commodity in even hotter months.

The Need: Keeping Kids Fed During the Summer

Claudia Fernandez passes out bananas to Texas City school district children during a lunch stop aboard the Nutrition Services' Sting Mobile on Thursday July 17, 2014.   JENNIFER REYNOLDS/The Daily News
Claudia Fernandez passes out bananas to Texas City school district children during a lunch stop aboard the Nutrition Services’ Sting Mobile on Thursday, July 17, 2014.

During the school year, over 2.3 million Texas children participate in free and reduced-price lunch programs every day. With the help of these programs, families can rest assured that their kids are given a nutritious meal while at school. But what happens when the school year ends?

Summer should be a time of recreation and relaxation for kids. But for many, the closing of schools means the start of a new challenge: finding their next meal.

In response to this, many cities across the state have implemented summer feeding programs, which serve to provide the same quality meals to kids ages 0-18 during the summer that they could have received during the school year. While sites are popping up all over Texas, participation is still low. Across the state, the amount of kids that participate in summer feeding programs compared to the number that participate in free and reduced-price lunches during the school year is only 11.9 percent, for a variety of reasons. Luckily, some school districts are beginning to implement a program that is drastically improving the number of meals served and access to them: Mobile Meals.

Texas City, McAllen and Waco are three ISDs that have implemented a mobile meals program in order to serve more children every day.

“Our office has found that transportation and other access barriers like the safety of streets, the ability to cross independently or leave the house independently and go far away have been cited as some of the main reasons the traditional Summer Meals model isn’t always a great fit for areas in Waco,” said Kelsey Miller, child hunger outreach specialist of the Texas Hunger Initiative’s Waco Regional Office.

Many meal sites are at schools, where the doors are already open for summer school. While these are accessible to some kids, the journey to and from the school can prove too long for many children to make safely on their own.

“There are going to be areas where in order to reach a school, the children would have to cross a major thoroughfare,” said Jacob Martinez, transportation director for McAllen ISD. “We also understand that during the school year, [the children’s] main mode of transportation to and from the school is the school bus.”

With no school buses relaying kids to and from schools, kids whose parents work during the day can be stranded within their neighborhoods or apartment complexes. Some children’s parents are in a position to bring them to a site, but the kids could still use some convincing.

“How many kids really want to go back to school in the summer unless they have to for summer school?” asked Alexandria Molina, director of McAllen ISD Food and Nutrition Services. “They’ll say ‘You’re gonna force me to come to school, just for meals?’”

Summer Meals sites are doing great work and are highly beneficial for many children. But for those with transportation issues or for whom it would be unsafe to walk to a site, the program needed to be re-thought. The solution? If you can’t bring the children to the meals, bring the meals to the children.

“Texas City is such a vast area, and the city has camps or daycares at certain locations,” said Gene Roblyer, director of school nutrition for Texas City ISD. “But when we looked at the map, there were a lot of areas, like apartments, [where residents] couldn’t walk to those locations. So we came up with the idea to try to go out to those areas and reach out to them.”

The Success So Far: Summer Mobile Meals Programs Accelerate Quickly

Aiyanna Wyatt, Tia'Kria Walker and Khadijan Wyatt have lunch on Texas City school district Nutrition Services' Sting Mobile during a stop on Thursday July 17, 2014. The school bus, converted to a mobile cafeteria, makes breakfast and lunch stops five days a week. JENNIFER REYNOLDS/The Daily News
Aiyanna Wyatt, Tia’Kria Walker and Khadijan Wyatt have lunch on Texas City school district Nutrition Services’ Sting Mobile during a stop on Thursday, July 17, 2014. The school bus, converted to a mobile cafeteria, makes breakfast and lunch stops five days a week.

Texas City, McAllen and Waco use similar models.  A school bus, which can either be retrofitted with supplies to become an exclusive Mobile Meals provider or simply borrowed from the district and staffed accordingly, travels between different areas where it would be unreasonable or unsafe for children to go to a stationary site.

The school districts collect data and find areas where there are high concentrations of kids with difficulties reaching other sites. Then, through a small amount of trial and error, stops are chosen and routes are created.

“One of the things that we’ve focused on is consistency,” Martinez said. “We wanted to make sure that throughout the summer we weren’t constantly changing times or changing locations. It took a little time to build that consistency with the kids so that they could trust that these buses would be there, but we’ve seen the numbers just steadily rise as the summer has gone by.”

The implementation of mobile meals has seen the number of meals served this summer go up across the board.

Texas City has doubled its numbers from last year, and the addition of mobile meals brought it close to completing its goal of serving 20,000 breakfasts and 35,000 lunches for the summer in only one month.

“Last June we served 13,292 students and this June we served 26,013. That’s for lunch,” Roblyer said. “For breakfast, last June we served 10,024 and this year we served 18,549.”

“Meals on the Bus,”  the Waco program which launched this June, served 300 children per route in its first week.

The success of the programs has come in unique ways to each city but has been surprising to all of them.

McAllen, which had a small budget to start this program, does not use the retrofitted bus system. A standard-issue, yellow school bus with an occupancy of 50 passengers arrives to serve the children, who eat in the bus seats. The program, which started for the first time on June 3, already has a system for when there are more children at the site than the bus can hold at one time.

“The bus rules say that the parents don’t enter the bus,” Molina said. “Just the kids get on the bus, the adults wait outside. It’s a safe place for kids to eat.”

The adults may not be waiting alone, though.

“Think of it like the occupancy of a restaurant,” Martinez said. “Kids are waiting outside, and once the others finish, they’ll get off the bus and the next round of kids will cycle in. We’ll keep cycling until all the children and meals are served.”

For a program with six routes serving 14 locations, reaching capacity on a 50-passenger bus is impressive. The lines aren’t bad for business, either.

“Seeing the parents congregated out there around the bus draws more attention and helps communicate that this is a bus that is serving meals,” Martinez said. “It really helps to create awareness.”

In Texas City, the surprise came not only in turnout, but in timing.

In Waco, a story teller entertains the kids as they eat.
In Waco, a story teller from the Central Library entertains the kids as they eat.

“The thing we’re happiest with is that the community has bought into it and are having the kids get up and come out to eat breakfast,” Roblyer said.

Texas City ISD originally planned not to serve breakfasts but, after experimenting for a week, found that they couldn’t stop. “The kids would meet us at lunch and say ‘See you tomorrow morning for breakfast,’” Roblyer said. “If they’ll get up, then we need to be there.”

The immediate success of the program has brought smiles to the faces of both sponsors and participants in the program.

Speaking about entertainment programs that the Waco buses have instated, Miller said, “the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. We’ve heard kids and families say ‘Oh, wow, this is really different.’”

Looking back, Martinez asks, “How could we not have done this? We know going forward that this is something we’re going to continue to do.”

The Future: Lasting Effects of a Nutrition-Filled Summer

In McAllen, signs advertise the program as more than just a meal.

When school starts again in August, Molina hopes that the school districts will realize the impact that summer programs have had.

“It helps our district,” Molina said. “[The kids] are going to be learning and playing and staying healthy, because they’re eating. They’ll be so much healthier when they come back in August.”

Molina shares that sentiment with Melissa Tortorici, who works alongside Roblyer as Texas City ISD’s director of communications.

“Our attitude is not that [the kids] aren’t our responsibility right now,” Tortorici said. “We think that it’s our responsibility to have happy, healthy kids. They will come to school better prepared and ready to learn in August if they’re eating nutritious food during the summer.”

Perhaps the thing that the districts involved in mobile meals so far are most excited about is the ability for this program to spread.

McAllen ISD, which strayed from the retrofitted bus model, wants to encourage other districts with a smaller budget to follow their lead.

“We’re excited that other districts are reaching out and asking how they can do it,” Molina said.

“I encourage those districts to follow suit,” Martinez said. “Find a way and make it happen, because there’s simply no downside to this.”

To learn more about this summer meals model and how your district can implement it, contact Gene Roblyer (Texas City), Alexandra Molina (McAllen) or Kelsey Miller (Waco). 

What Can Happen in a Year…Of Service? [Part Two]

In March, we said goodbye to several brilliant AmeriCorps VISTAs who fulfilled their one-year terms and left a mark on THI. Now we say goodbye to 10 more, each of whom embodies the spirit and work ethic of a VISTA. Each of them will go on to do great things, and while their service year at THI is over, their impact will be felt for years to come. Below, they share some of their favorite experiences from the year and what the next chapters of their lives entail.

Cady PenaCady Pena | San Angelo | Field Organizer

I loved being re-introduced to a somewhat familiar community, but in a new and very different way. It was humbling to see different aspects of my city that I had failed to notice years before. I was also able to work with some great community leaders, some of whom I had worked alongside in a previous career, ironically. It was great to have the opportunity to build on existing relationships and create new ones as we worked together toward a common goal. I met some fascinatingly driven and ambitious people this year, and the idea that they each wanted to assist me in our coalition’s hunger outreach endeavors was mind-boggling, but so appreciated.

What’s next?

I will be pursuing volunteer opportunities in my town, getting to know my neighbors and doing my own type of ‘outreach’, in between raising our first child and caring for my family. I have never had an interest in setting specific career goals, and I plan to welcome any random opportunity that gets placed in my path along the way.

KelseyHilton_LBKKelsey Hilton | Lubbock   Field Organizer

I perceive the biggest impact I have made on the community to be relationships I fostered. I enjoyed getting to know both stakeholders and individuals experiencing food insecurity. Bringing the community together was the most rewarding part of the job. THI exposed me to the nonprofit world and allowed me opportunities to dream big and try new things. I am also thankful to NYCCAH for the chance to work with people across the nation. Texas is not the only place where people are food-insecure, but if Texas can end hunger, anybody can, and the Texas Hunger Initiative is leading the way.

What’s next?

 I have accepted a job as a Web Application Developer for a small computer networking and data security company here in Lubbock. As a native Coloradan, I will admit that the West Texas Vortex, comprised of wind, friendly people and a great sense of pride, has sucked me in.

Jadi Chapman | Waco | Hunger Program Specialist

As a VISTA in the Waco Regional Office, I had the opportunity to focus primarily on the impact food insecurity has on the senior population and what some of the barriers are to seniors getting proper nutrition. Getting to speak with older Americans at the Waco senior centers, housing complexes and Meals on Wheels sites has been the most impactful part of my term. JadiChapmanThey have great stories and insights, and they always say how blessed they are, no matter what situation they are going through. This population does not get a lot of recognition or focus in the anti-hunger community, so being able to serve them was wonderful.

What’s next?

 I will be moving to Washington, DC, to serve as the VISTA leader with the New York City Coalition Against Hunger.

Maddy McDaniel and Max Castillo | Houston | Field Organizers

Maddy and MaxDuring our year of service, Max and I had the opportunity to develop important professional skills.  We learned about media relations, volunteer recruitment, grant writing, event planning, and building community engagement through partnerships.  We also had the opportunity to learn about federal benefits programs and the challenges clients face in accessing resources.  After his VISTA year, Max is hoping to work for a nonprofit organization in the Greater Houston area to improve the lives of the people in his community.  After my VISTA year, I will be moving to Chungcheongnam-do, South Korea, to teach English for a year before going to graduate school for an MA in International Affairs at George Washington University Elliott School of International Affairs.

Stephana Sherman | Community Outreach Coordinator | Lubbock

Stephana Sherman copy

Wow, what a year! I have learned so much about my local community because working for THI has opened so many doors for me. I have had the opportunity to attend community meetings such as the South Plains Homeless Consortium and the Lubbock Churches Coalition for the Homeless and others. These meetings have taught me about Lubbock and given me the opportunities to meet local stakeholders and learn more about what they are doing in the community. From each meeting I go to, I learn so much about the town that I thought I knew so well.  While attending Texas Tech University, I thought I knew the ins and outs of Lubbock. When I started this job, I took off my rose-colored glasses in order to see what the needs were in my community.

 My most impactful experience as an AmeriCorps VISTA in Lubbock was realizing that what I am doing positively affects those in need. I am not a direct service provider, and because of that I don’t often directly help those in need by signing them up for SNAP or giving them a food box.  In the beginning, it was hard to believe that I was helping anyone. This view changed when I visited a Community Partner who helps hundreds of people each month sign up for or renew their HHSC benefits. How were they able to help that many people? By being a Community Partner and using the online YourTexasBenefits portal. That is a lot of people that are getting the benefits that they need! Indirectly, I do make a difference in my local community.

What’s next?

After my term is over, I am unsure of where life will take me. However, this experience has taught me that I genuinely care for those who need a helping hand and will continue to support those in need in any way that I can. I will encourage those around me to volunteer or donate to organizations that are helping people. I’ve met with local organizations who need volunteers or donations, and I know that they are good people trying to do good things in their communities because God has blessed them with a caring heart. I walk away from this experience with an open mind and a caring heart. 

Desmian Alexander | CPRI Outreach Coordinator | San AntonioDes Alexander

The most impactful experience came when another Corps member and I gave our last Navigator training to an organization we had been working with since practically the beginning of my service year. It was really great to see how they had come full circle through the process, and remained passionate about the program and what it could do for their community. They asked really thoughtful questions about how they could use CPP to best serve their clients, and at the end, were all too eager to give us hugs, thanking us for our help. It was really great to see how this experience will have long-term benefits for those in the community.

I am not yet sure what I will be doing since I’m still looking for jobs. However, whatever I will be doing will definitely be something that is for the public good.

Aleigh Ascherl | Community Outreach Coordinator | WacoAleigh_Ascherl

Although I could never pinpoint one experience, my VISTA term has been a whirlwind of learning from my low-income neighbors, those working in their communities across the state and the members of the Waco Regional Office. What began as a transition year ended up being so much more. As I move on, these experiences and lessons I have learned will shape my own work as I seek to continually think critically about what I am doing and who it is truly benefitting.

What’s next?

I am currently exploring job opportunities in the nonprofit sector.

Sonya Thomas | Community Outreach Coordinator | WacoSonyaThomas

Service as an AmeriCorps VISTA has reframed my understanding of domestic poverty as existing in a system context, which has in turn motivated me to understand how disease exists and operates in a socio-cultural context.  My work for the past year has shown me how the lack of access to resources and large-scale barriers presents serious consequences for individual and community well-being, but it has also solidified my interest in understanding the social determinants of health.  My VISTA experience encouraged me to ask questions about how government funding shapes services and the outreach work of nonprofit organizations.  It also raised questions about the influence of cultural understandings of gender upon illness, and how public health research can effectively be translated to inform policy and the implementation of interventions.

What’s next?

After completing my VISTA term, I’ll be moving to Houston to complete graduate work in public health.  I’m a nerd at heart, so I’m excited to be back in the classroom!

Compiled by: Matt Chelf , Share Our Strength No Kid Hungry Youth Ambassador, Baylor University ’16

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)

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

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

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,

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.