COVID-19 pandemic creates greater need for food assistance in Keller, Roanoke and north Fort Worth

Volunteers help make snack bags for children in the Community Storehouse in Keller. (Sandra Sadek / Community Impact Newspaper)

Organizations like Community Storehouse and the Tarrant Area Food Bank have been busy throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. On October 23rd alone, over 2,600 families visited TAFB.

Since March, the demand for food aid has risen to record levels as the pandemic and its aftermath have forced many people to turn to social services for help for the first time in their lives.

“Since March 16, we’ve fed over 16,000 people and increased our services by 300%,” said Megan Stiller, development director for Community Storehouse, a Keller-based nonprofit that aims to support children and families from Keller ISD, Northwest ISD and Carroll ISD with training and nutrition.

Across the region, food banks and pantries are rethinking procedures to meet their community’s needs while staying safe. The Tarrant Area Food Bank was serving 60 million meals in fiscal 2019-20, which ended September 30, according to the Food Bank website.

TAFB President Julie Butner said many families are embarrassed and ashamed when they first use grocery banking services.

“It’s heartbreaking,” she said. “People are beginning to understand that we have people in our city who are hungry.”

The grocery bank increased its sales by 65% ​​through its network of 350 partners, Butner said. 35 mobile emergency pantries have also been added to meet increased demand.

As more people ask for help for the first time, many are also learning that food insecurity is not just defined by where people live and can be influenced by factors beyond their control, Butner said.

“The frequency [at which people need assistance] It’s not about whether you live in the city or in the country, ”she said. “Frequency is about jobs, job loss, crisis, or death in the family. Such things create food insecurity. “

Define food insecurity

The US Department of Agriculture defines food insecurity as “limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe food, or limited or uncertain ability to obtain acceptable food in a socially acceptable manner”.

Low levels of food security are less about the amount of food than about the quality, variety and desirability of food, the agency said. Lack of access to nutritious and healthy foods can be caused by several factors. Families could face low wages, a lack of transportation, a lack of grocery stores nearby, a lack of affordable housing, high medical costs, or a cluster of problems.

In cities like Keller, Roanoke and Fort Worth, the people most severely affected by food insecurity are “working poor,” Stiller said. “We see a lot of parents who have two to three jobs and live from paycheck to paycheck,” she said.

The pandemic has forced many to face new challenges, including loss of income, death in the family as a result of the virus, or coping with the disease itself.

As people’s income was reduced or lost altogether, many had to cut their daily lives, Stiller said. For many, the first thing to do is eat.

“The last thing people are going to do is get rid of their house or their car,” she said. “You never know what’s going on behind closed doors.”

Child hunger

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the inability of some families to feed their children has become a community problem. To mitigate these effects of the crisis, the local school districts have made changes to offer free and discounted lunches to more students.

The change is due in part to a USDA program that provides funding to help school districts offer free meal waivers to all students regardless of income. As a result, many counties have expanded their free meal programs, including Keller ISD.

From October 29th, 27% of KISD students will receive a free or discounted lunch. From November 4th, all KISD students will have access to free meals until the end of the 2020-21 school year.

In Northwest ISD, data shows 5,207 students qualify for a free and discounted lunch for the 2020-21 school year. The district currently offers free breakfast and lunch to all elementary and middle school students.

Cassie McQuitty, CEO of Christ’s Haven, a nonprofit volunteering internship in Basement, said the waiver of free lunch for all students in the district was “incredible” for families who still find food a financial burden, but who do otherwise may not be free and have reduced lunches.

“When you take away the stigma that comes with it [free and reduced-price lunch]and now everyone gets a free lunch, it’s one less sign that our kids have to carry. It’s one less thing that sets them apart from everyone else, ”said McQuitty.

Dr. Erin Kane, a family doctor at Baylor Scott and White Community Care, said food insecurity issues not only affect children’s healthy development, but also their stress levels and ability to focus in school. Food insecure children often struggle with obesity, she said.

“We can find children growing up in families who are actually struggling with obesity because they make unhealthy choices,” she said. “This is what the family has access to, and it can lead to long-term health outcomes related to obesity, such as: B. Diabetes [and] High blood pressure.”

Free and discounted lunch programs are often a lifeline for some families to feed their children, and they have become even more important during the pandemic, she said.

“It is clear that for most families this might be the case [the child’s] The healthiest meal of the day and sometimes the most reliable meal, ”said Kane.

Medical expenses

According to 2019 nonprofit, Feeding America, Texans suffering from food insecurity spend more than $ 200 more annually on health care than those who are unaffected, and certain health care costs may go on for the uninsured climb.

In a 2019 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Texas was ranked among the top five US states with the highest per capita health costs associated with food insecurity.

“That problem has always been here,” said Kane. “We can only better identify it and see how widespread hunger and food insecurity are in our community […] and how much it relates to a person’s general health. ”

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