Baylor Hunger Summit Aims to End Hunger in Texas

Nov. 6, 2009

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Texas has plenty of food to go around.

Yet it is the third hungriest state in the nation, with an estimated 1.3 million Texas residents experiencing hunger daily.

Delving into the reasons for that and finding ways to eradicate hunger by 2015 will be the focus of Texas at the Table: Baylor University Hunger Summit on Nov. 19.

More than 250 representatives from advocacy groups, social service providers and federal, state and local governments are expected to attend the event, hosted by Texas Hunger Initiative, at Baylor's Bill Daniel Student Center on the Baylor campus.

Crucial to success is organizing communities, education and changing approaches to find efficient ways to distribute food, said Jeremy Everett, director of the Texas Hunger Initiative. The initiative is a joint effort of Texas Baptists (formerly the Baptist General Convention of Texas) and the School of Social Work's Center for Family and Community Ministries at Baylor University.

The No. 1 priority will be to increase the number of children in feeding programs in summer 2010, Everett said. Texas has the nation's highest rate of "food insecurity" -- not knowing where the next meal will come from --among children. That's an estimated 22 percent of those younger than age 18.

During the school year, children may eat free breakfasts and lunches at school, but for the next 20 hours, they may have nothing, Everett said. And in summer, feeding programs are unavailable.

"One of the stories I tell is of a San Antonio pastor who found some kids diving in a Dumpster on a Saturday morning because they didn't have any food at home," Everett said. "Hunger is dire for so many people. And that may be the situation five minutes from my house."

In Texas, about 40 percent of eligible families do not take part in the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Even if those families opted to do so, state workers are grappling with backlogs of applications from people who have waited months for aid.

It's ironic that in many communities, "right outside of town is a large agricultural community with small farmers having a hard time selling their produce," Everett said.

"Looking at it from a theological perspective, God has provided enough," he said. "But we're going to have to be attentive and creative about how to get it into people's hands."

The USDA estimates that 96 billion pounds of food are wasted annually in the United States. And food insecurity costs the state more than $9 billion a year, in part because of lowered productivity and illness related to hunger, according to a study by the University Center on Hunger and Poverty at Brandeis University in Waltham, Va.

Reasons that people do not apply for feeding programs are numerous, said Patricia Mancha, director of communications and governmental affairs for the southwest region of the Food and Nutrition Service of the USDA. The service oversees domestic feeding programs.

Many older people do not know they are eligible or incorrectly believe that in receiving help, they will be taking food from children in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Mancha said.

Another misconception is that people would not get enough money to make it worth the effort of applying, she said. But the average among the elderly is $67 a month, based on income and need.

"Even if you only get $10, once you qualify, you also qualify for other programs, such as assistance with paying your electricity or weatherizing your home," Mancha said.

Many people believe they cannot qualify for aid because they have jobs, but "we do have the working poor," she said. "For them, this is a supplement."

For others, shame stands in the way.

"A lot of people have lost their jobs and never thought they would qualify," Mancha said. "It's always an issue: `I've worked all my life and I'm not going to do this. I can pull myself up by the bootstraps.'

"Something that can come straight from the pulpit to the congregation is to recognize this is an entitlement program," she said. "You're not being weak or lazy."

Officials with Texas Impact, an interfaith group that focuses on social issues and public policy, say an overhaul of the state's food system is needed.

"Unhealthy food is cheap; healthy food is more expensive," said Rob Borowski, a project director with Texas Impact. "We need to address how to create a sustainable, healthy food system for everybody."

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Among the event's speakers will be Julie Paridis, USDA Food, Nutrition and Consumer Service administrator; Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples, Camille Miller, president and chief executive officer of the Texas Health Institute; and Max Finberg, director of USDA Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. Breakout sessions will address supporting feeding program sites during summers, needs of rural children, improving registration process for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, nutritional guidelines, educating families; supporting local growers, working with food banks and pantries; and involving youth. For more information and to get involved, visit www.texashunger.org

Contact: Terry Goodrich, Assistant Director of Media Communications, (254) 710-3321

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