In Texas, one child out of four lives in poverty, and the poverty rates for Hispanic and African-American children are nearly three times higher than for Anglo or Asian children.
“Texas is one of the 10 worst states to be a child,” said Ann Beeson, executive director of the Center for Public Policy Priorities.
Furthermore, food insecurity affects the state’s black and Hispanic children at about twice the rate of white children. In Texas, 38 percent of African-American children and 31 percent of Hispanic children experience food insecurity, compared to 17 percent of white children.
But churches are helping to make a difference, said Jeremy Everett, director of the Baylor University-based Texas Hunger Initiative.
Although Texas still has a higher percentage of food-insecure households than the national average, the total number of families in the state struggling to avoid hunger decreased since the end of the last recession, according to a recent report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In 2015, the USDA said 15.4 percent of Texas households—about 1.5 million families—were at risk of hunger, but that’s compared to 17.2 percent in the previous year’s report.
“We are thrilled to see individuals and families move beyond hunger to food-secure households,” said Everett, who served on the National Commission on Hunger. “In spite of all the bad news we see reported, this shows that when we choose to be the hands and feet of Christ and to use the gifts of creativity God has bestowed onto his people, that amazing things are happening our world today.”
Everett suggested three actions churches can take to fight hunger:
• Participate in summer meals programs.
The programs benefit children who qualify for free or reduced lunches during the school year.
“A church can be a summer meal site if it is strategically located, or it can help serve at an established site,” he said.
The Texas Hunger Initiative has led the way in enlisting congregations, and participation has increased by 2 million meals since 2011, adding an additional 700 sites.
• Prepare and deliver meals to elderly neighbors and others in need.
Senior adults not only benefit from the nutritious meals, but also thrive on the socialization, he noted.
• Adopt a local school.
“There is no reason not to partner with a local school,” Everett said. “There is a public school with low-income students within easy driving distance of virtually every Baptist church in Texas.”
Churches can provide backpacks filled with nutritious food each Friday for students to take home each weekend. Some churches may offer before-school or after-school programs.
Individual church members also can advocate for students in the schools their churches adopt. Since the 2009-10 school year, Texas has increased free and reduced student participation in breakfast programs by 10 percent, now providing for 1.4 million students.