North Texas Food Bank notes 17% spike as food insecurity increases
With statewide food affordability reaching record levels, the North Texas Food Bank says its network is feeling an unprecedented squeeze as more low- to moderate-income families are relying on food banks and nonprofits.
Since March, NTFB, which manages a food network of more than 400 food pantries, says it has seen a 17% increase in food delivered to providers across North Texas.
Since March 2022, when inflation began to hit families hard, the group has provided an average of 12.3 million meals per month. The nonprofit served 10.5 million meals a month during the early stages of COVID-19 through February 2022. Before the pandemic, the number was 7.3 million a month.
North Texas households are spending about $325 more each month on food today than they did at the same time last year, according to NTFB data.
“Dallas County is the fifth highest food insecure county in the country, right here in North Texas. And that’s not something we’re proud of,” said Trisha Cunningham, president and CEO of NTFB. “What’s saddest is that out of Feeding America’s 200 food banks and service areas, we have the fourth highest number of children who are food insecure, meaning they don’t know that evening if they’re going to eat food on their desk when they get home.”
Advocates say food insecurity exists not necessarily because there isn’t enough food, but because people can’t afford food on their incomes, along with other basic needs like housing, transportation and childcare.
“This is the story of working poverty that we’ve known about for years,” said Jay Dunn, managing director of The Salvation Army of North Texas. “And this is still happening. But what’s also happening now is that without losing that income, people are experiencing similar crises.”
Incomes are not keeping pace with inflation growth of around 8.4% continues to strain Dallas Fort-Worth families, particularly Black and Hispanic families who face a disproportionate amount of need.
According to 2021 Census data, disparities in national median income based on race and ethnicity include whites earning $75.41, Hispanics or Latinos earning $60,566, and blacks earning $46,774.
In the 13 districts it serves, NTFB says about 13% of people overall face food insecurity. About 23% of people of color face food insecurity in North Texas; 17% of Hispanic people and 6% of white, non-Hispanic people face food insecurity.
About 1.5 million families in Texas face frequent hunger, more than any other state, according to NTFB data.
While the need for food banks is increasing along with inflation and rising costs, the NTFB also says that support and donations to food banks have dropped significantly over the past year.
“If you look at what we’re spending today, it’s no secret, we have a $60 million budget, half of that budget, $30 million, is for food,” Cunningham said. “Twenty million dollars is deficit spending because our fundraising is down as well. So we have a bit of a perfect storm. Needs higher than ever, government support actually lower than it was before the pandemic.”
To combat the growing food insecurity crisis, NTFB is supporting several bills in the Legislature that would free up program money for farmers, Texans on SNAP assistance and trade school students.
Sen. Nathan Johnson (D-Dallas) says lawmakers need to get more creative when trying to solve the food insecurity crisis.
“Sometimes we will offer incentives for businesses to move across the state. At the local government level or at the state government level, could there be an incentive for a private corporation to build a grocery store in an area that they think is dangerous? Some kind of guarantee from low interest laws?” Johnson said. “The state can set aside a pot of money that cities and counties can apply for forgivable loans or grants and cooperation in partnership with the federal government and hunger programs.”
Some local nonprofits, like For Oak Cliff, have also begun moving into food advocacy spaces to serve growing needs in their communities.
The organization has held focus groups with Oak Cliff residents to learn more about what it’s like to live in food deserts — or a “food apartheid,” according to Julianna Bradley YeeFoon, director of food justice at FOC.
“We call it food apartheid because we want to address the root causes of the ways our community is designed, lay out the ways the retail red line exists and the grocery stores aren’t coming here and the real human impact that has. ”, said Bradley YeeFoon.
FOC started a farmers market with the help of the US Department of Agriculture to help address the lack of food options in a community that lacks the same access to grocery stores and healthy food options compared to other areas.
“At the city and county level, especially at the state level, there’s a lot of room for subsidizing new grocery stores, maybe even incentivizing dollar stores to have a little farm stand,” Bradley YeeFoon said. “We’re using existing infrastructure to make products more accessible in these areas where we know… there’s high poverty and a lack of transportation.”