The images of long lines of cars waiting to obtain boxes of essentials from local food banks were prevalent during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic. But those long lines haven’t gone away, and they suggest a higher-than-ever level of food insecurity in Texas.
In an average year, the Houston Food Bank reports that it distributes 450,000 pounds of food per day in the 18-county region it serves. Now, it’s distributing some 800,000 pounds of food per day. Other areas of that state are also experiencing significantly higher demand for food aid, too.
Celia Cole is CEO of Feeding Texas, a nonprofit that assists food banks across the state with their operations. Cole told Texas Standard that 1 in 4 Texas families is now experiencing food insecurity. She believes the rate of food insecurity is increasing as the number of COVID-19 cases in the state rises.
“We’re talking about close to 9 million Texans who don’t always know where their next meal is coming from,” Cole said.
Food insecurity is at its highest in communities of color, families with children and in rural areas, she says. And food banks are serving twice the number of Texans they did before the pandemic.
Food distribution relies not only on availability of food, but on the volunteers who usually distribute it. However, during the pandemic, fewer people have been available to help.
“It’s been a perfect storm of a decrease in the food supply and a decrease in the number of volunteers we have [and] a loss of the partner agencies who help us get food out into the community,” Cole said.
Food banks received significant federal aid during the first six months of the pandemic. But aid hasn’t kept up with the need.
“We’re seeing the same level of need, and, in fact, anticipating that it’s going to increase in the next few months. And all of that increase in federal food aid is drying up,” Cole said.
Those who want to help Texans experiencing food insecurity can do three things: donate money, volunteer to help a local food bank if possible and speak out.
“Lift your voice with your members of Congress,” Cole said. “We are going to need additional food aid for food banks, we’re going to need additional commodities and we need to have a stimulus bill that boosts SNAP benefits and puts additional unemployment benefits on the table as soon as possible.”