DALLAS—Participants at a summit sponsored by the Dallas Coalition for Hunger Solutions heard mixed reports about progress toward eradicating hunger.
On the negative side of the ledger, Dallas County has more than 450,000 food-insecure residents, and 87 percent of students in the Dallas Independent School District qualify for free or reduced lunches.
However, the Dallas ISD has committed to expand its breakfast-in-the-classroom program across the district, and students received 9.6 million more meals his past year than the previous year, said Dora Rivas, executive director of food and nutrition services for the Dallas ISD.
The Texas Hunger Initiative—developed within the Baylor University School of Social Work in cooperation with the Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission—worked with U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson and various community leaders two years ago to create the Dallas Coalition for Hunger Solutions.
The coalition includes Dallas Baptist Association, the Episcopal Diocese of Dallas, the North Texas Food Bank and various local ministries and community-service providers.
“In this land of riches, no child, no family, should go without food,” Johnson told the hunger summit.
Even so, two days before the summit, the U.S. Department of Agriculture released a report saying 18.4 percent of Texas households were hungry or at risk of hunger between 2010 and 2012—nearly 4 percent higher than the national rate and statistically unchanged from the prior three-year period. Texas ranks No. 3 nationally in terms of food insecurity, behind Arkansas and Mississippi.
Texas ranks No. 3 nationally in terms of food insecurity.
“There’s more than enough food out there. There are more than enough resources out there. The key missing ingredients are coordination and collaboration,” said Marc Jacobson from the Texas Hunger Initiative.
So, the Texas Hunger Initiative helped facilitate the public-private partnerships represented in the Dallas Coalition for Hunger Solutions. The coalition created action teams to address four goals—increase access to federally funded programs; grow and provide access to healthy food by promoting a local and sustainable food system; increase access to programs that are not federally funded; and decrease the number of food deserts and food swamps.
Food deserts and swamps
Richard Amory with the Hunger Center of North Texas described food deserts as areas that lack access to full-service grocery stores and food swamps as areas with high concentrations of low-cost fast food that offers limited nutritional value.
Amory reported families in low-income areas with limited access to grocery stores who also lack access to a vehicle account for only 1 percent of Dallas County households. However, that still means 8,861 households lack access to stores where families can buy nutritious food.
Jana Jackson, director of family and community ministries at Dallas Baptist Association, identified four objectives of the team charged with increasing access to programs not federally funded—encourage best practices, increase the food supply to providers, increase the number of crisis food providers and create a database of Dallas County crisis food providers, locations and service opportunities.
As part of that effort, her team worked with the Texas Hunger Initiative to promote the Community Partner program in the faith community. The Community Partner effort involves creating a statewide network of community-based organizations—including churches—to help qualified Texans apply for or renew social service benefits online.