USDA report shows food insecurity is down statewide — that’s not reflected in Central Texas though

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — A new report from the USDA shows the number of people who don’t know where their next meal is coming from has gone down over the past few years in Texas. The report shows there was a slight dip in food insecurity from 2015-17 to 2018-20 and a more than 5% decrease over the past 10 years.

What the report indicates, according to experts, is the pandemic and other recent disasters pushed publicly-funded nutrition programs into overdrive, and in many cases they worked.

“Last year, when many Americans lost jobs, were furloughed, or had a dramatic fluctuation in hours and incomes due to widespread closures and quarantines, our federal safety net programs mitigated hunger for households across the country,” Jeremy Everett, founder and executive director of the Baylor Collaborative on Hunger and Poverty, wrote to KXAN.

Still, there are more than 4.2 million Texans and one in four kids in our state suffering from food insecurity right now, according to that Texas-based Hunger and Poverty collaborative.

Central Texas trends show much different picture

In Central Texas specifically, that decrease in food insecurity the USDA is seeing statewide is not reflected, Derrick Chubbs, the president and CEO of the Central Texas Food Bank, said.

“I’m not saying that it’s wrong, I’m just saying that it’s not our experience,” Chubbs said. “Pre-pandemic, let’s just say from 2019, our food insecurity rates were about 13.2%, and in 2021 they’re calculated at 15.4%. That’s a 16% increase not a decrease.”

Chubbs says childhood food insecurity is also up 21%.

“If we didn’t know it before, there’s nothing like a line over at Nelson field where we’re distributing food to 6,000 or 7,000 people to just bring the point across that we have a hunger problem not only in Central Texas, but we have one throughout this nation,” Chubbs said.

He also said the food bank spent roughly $100,000 a month purchasing food before the pandemic started. That’s up to $1 million a month during the pandemic.

Communities of color disproportionately impacted

Where findings from the USDA and the Central Texas Food Bank do match up is in their findings that communities of color are disproportionately impacted by food insecurity both during the pandemic and in general.

“Unfortunately, for Black and Hispanic households, food insecurity climbed – in some cases rather extremely. People of color continue to bear the brunt of our broken social systems,” Everett told KXAN of the USDA report.

It’s something the Central Texas Food Bank has seen too.

“That’s something that the pandemic really shined a bright light on,” Chubbs said. “If the pandemic didn’t do it, the freeze did it more.”

Central Texas Food Bank says it’s working on several programs and pilots to chip away at that issue. For example, the City of Austin, Central Texas Food Bank and other groups have partnered on a pilot with Amazon to have groceries delivered directly to people who can’t make it to food distribution events or grocery stores.

They’re also looking at partner agencies, particularly those that focus on homebound deliveries, to further that mission.

How to give, get help

If you or someone you know is struggling with food insecurity, you can find resources near you on the Central Texas Food Banks’ ‘find food’ section of its website.

Chubbs says they are in need of donations and volunteers. Summer is traditionally a busy time for the food bank.

To sign up to volunteer or donate, check out the website. You can sign up to volunteer at a mobile food pantry, in a warehouse, community kitchen, garden or partner sites.

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