WACO—A $3.5 million annual contract from the Texas Health and Human Services Commission will enable the Texas Hunger Initiative to develop a public-private partnership to expand low-income families’ access to food and health care.
The contract is renewable up to five years and could provide $17.5 million. It will allow the Texas Hunger Initiative to open regional offices by the end of March in 12 cities—Amarillo, Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, El Paso, Houston, Lubbock, McAllen, San Angelo, San Antonio, Tyler and Waco.
“We believe the best solution to local problems comes from the local community, so it is important for us to put the decision-making process for how to address hunger in the hands of the local community,” Texas Hunger Initiative Director Jeremy Everett said.
Battling hunger in Texas
The Texas Hunger Initiative began four years ago as a partnership between the Baylor University School of Social Work, the Christian Life Commission of the Baptist General Convention of Texas and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It aims to significantly reduce—if not eliminate—hunger in the state.
The contract will provide resources to enable the Texas Hunger Initiative to develop a coalition of community partners that includes business, government, health-care providers, churches and nonprofit agencies. Leaders plan to enlist 1,100 community-based organizations and train volunteers to help low-income Texans apply for and manage state benefits.
A collaborative model that brings together the public and private sectors “can make government leaner and more efficient while significantly reducing hunger and poverty in our communities,” Everett said.
Stephanie Muth, deputy executive commissioner at the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, characterized the collaborative partnership as “a very cost-effective way to reach deeper into the community by using established organizations that people know and trust.”
The cooperative approach also helps churches meet needs, use their own resources more effectively, and reduce waste and duplication, Everett added.
For example, when people approach churches for assistance, trained volunteers can help those who are eligible for public aid apply for it by using an online tool (YourTexasBenefits.com). That enables churches to use food pantries and other direct assistance to help working families with short-term needs who may not qualify for government aid.
“The right food goes to the right people,” he explained.
A multi-discipline effort
Baylor University faculty who represent multiple disciplines—from business to social work—will conduct research to evaluate the program’s cost-effectiveness and impact, as well as examine barriers community-based organizations and clients may encounter.
“This funding gives us a unique opportunity to conduct rigorous research on how best to create systemic changes resulting in greater food security for those most vulnerable to hunger and malnutrition,” said Diana Garland, dean of the Baylor School of Social Work.
“Research enables us not just to feed the hungry in our state, but to disseminate best practices to address hunger across the nation.”
Everett sees the research component of the initiative as vitally important.
The importance of research
“A lot of times you have research on one side of the campus and service work on the other side of the campus,” he said. “We believe if we’re really serious about significantly reducing hunger and poverty domestically, we have to tie research into all outreach endeavors that we’re undertaking.
“It’s important to evaluate everything we’re doing. It’s important to identify what real poverty might look like, what real hunger looks like, and what kind of resources we have—by county, for example—to address each one of the problems.”
Since the Texas Hunger Initiative’s launch in 2009, it has worked closely with communities throughout the state to develop food planning associations and food policy councils, increase participation in summer meal programs and school breakfast programs for children from low-income families and increase Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program accessibility at farmers’ markets.
Four years ago, Texas was second nationally in childhood hunger. Since the Texas Hunger Initiative began its work, Texas has dropped to No. 11 in the country in childhood hunger.
Lori Fogleman of Baylor University Communications contributed to this report.