TRAVIS COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) — Travis County Commissioners Court approved $3.1 million in funding last week to expand fresh food access for low-income residents and other marginalized populations, after declaring the issue a “critical need” on the onset of the pandemic. An additional $1.8 million in funds were earmarked for prepared meal services for residents needing access to premade, nutritionally dense meals.

Travis County Judge Andy Brown told KXAN Tuesday food access and food insecurity is a significant issue within the county. Specifically, accessing fresh, nutritionally dense food is something the program aims to expand.

“There are some organizations that actually work to grow food and provide fresh vegetables to communities — maybe vegetables that people who are living here as refugees are more familiar with. They’re helping grow that at a lower cost,” he said, adding: “There’s a lot of different ways that people are getting food out through this program.”

The funding will run through September 2023, courtesy American Rescue Plan Act dollars. Beyond next fall, Brown said he wants to see more long-term measures taken at the state and federal level to amp up prioritization of food assistance services.

One of those areas he said he’d like to see expanded efforts in is Medicaid funding in Texas, which he said would improve healthy and nutritional food access.

“I’m excited that we’re able to help in this way, but clearly the long-term need is still there,” he said. “And we need to do more at the state level to help close that gap from the federal funding, and help people long-term.”

Andrea Abel serves as executive director of Farmshare Austin, which received nearly $417,000 in funds for its mobile markets and curbside delivery services. Farmshare Austin currently serves 22 ZIP codes within the Eastern Crescent of Austin-Travis County; between 25% and 30% of its program participants use Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits and Double Up Food Bucks services, she said.

With this funding, Abel said Farmshare Austin will double the number of weekly in-person mobile market locations from five to 10, as well as enroll 100 participants into its Veggie Rx pilot. The pilot program works in tandem with People’s Community Clinic and Dell Medical School to provide fresh produce to diabetic and prediabetic patients.

As Farmshare Austin continues reopening markets and offering its curbside delivery services, Abel said there’s been a steady increase in customers. Despite inflation levels and related financial impacts on food products, Abel said the organization hasn’t raised its prices for customers.

“We try to keep our prices reduced from what they would be at other places, to help those folks who are having to fill in and pay those additional costs for their rent, for their utilities, for their transportation,” she said.

With this supplemental funding, Abel said Farmshare Austin will also work to improve its online web store to make it more accessible for customers who aren’t as digitally literate or who might lack Internet access. The organization will also make it more fully bilingual to reach its non-native English speaking population.

“This grant, above everything else, will be transformational,” she said.

Other organizations that received funding include:

  • Central Texas Food Bank: Home Delivery Program
    • $791,000 in funding for direct, monthly home deliveries of 26-30-pound boxes of nonperishable foods, through collaborations between CTFB, Amazon and Austin Public Health Neighborhood Services Unit
  • Multicultural Refugee Coalition: Traditional Provisions
    • $316,000 in funding to expand locally grown produce access for low-income refugees, asylees, human trafficking survivors and other immigrants in Travis County; also provides employment and income opportunities for community farmers
  • Sustainable Food Center: Double Up Food Bucks
    • $291,000 in funding to serve Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) participants with increase fresh fruit and vegetable access and expanding the number of Triple WIC days each month
  • El Buen Samaritano: Food Access & Healthy Futures
    • $445,000 in funding for expanded walk-up, drive-through, pop-up and home delivery pantry services to low-income and food-insecure residents
  • Urban Roots: Removing Barriers to Fresh Foods Project
    • $350,000 in funding to support youth leaders’ harvesting of fresh food and delivery f fresh produce through home delivery, mobile markets, food pantries and pop-up markets
  • Foundation Communities: Healthy Food Pantry Program
    • $508,000 in funding to operate 13 residential food pantries and help families enroll in the SNAP benefits
  • The Cook’s Nook: SEFAN Program
    • $1.8 million to provide healthy, prepared meals through four channels:
      • Collaborating with community-based and nonprofit organizations to provide meals to their clients
      • Home delivery services for clients
      • Frozen meals shipped directly to client’s homes
      • Remote meal pickup events in rural locations throughout Travis County