1 in 12 North Texans Go Hungry

April 27, 2010  

By Emily Kogan

Seven-year-old Miracle sits patiently in a chair in the front room of the Cedar Hill Food Pantry, chewing on a candy and telling the men around her how much fun she had in the snow this weekend, but how scary it was when the electricity in her house went out.

Her mother, who does not want to give her name, is nervous and her eyes are downcast. She is about to apply for emergency food and electricity help at the pantry, located at 403 Houston St. Cedar Hill, TX.

Larry Miney, President of the board at Cedar Hill Food Pantry, said new families like Miracle’s come in all the time needing emergency food and sometimes help with electricity as well. They can get food for one time, even if they don’t have the proper documentation.

“If someone is hungry they can come here no questions asked and get food,” said Miney.

The Cedar Hill Food Pantry is just one of the 290 agencies The North Texas Food Bank distributes food to. The NTFB provides emergency assistance to approximately 64,000 people a week, an 80 percent increase from 2006.

Colleen Brinkman, Chief Philanthropy Officer of the NTFB said a major misconception is that the hungry and the homeless are the same. In reality, the homeless are only nine percent of the population the NTFB serves.

“The majority of the people in America and in North Texas are the working hungry,” said Brinkman.

She describes the face of the hungry as not much different from the rest of the community. They are people who work, or used to work until the economic downturn. They could be a neighbor, a relative, or someone who makes seven, eight, nine dollars an hour and has a family to support.

“These are people with college degrees, that have worked, that pay taxes, that follow all the rules of society but have been laid off and they have run out of resources,” said Brinkman.

In the 13 North Texas counties served by the NTFB, households with children who are going hungry have increased by four percent since 2006. Teachers in suburban elementary schools have told Brinkman that students will peel the paper off crayons so they can eat.

“There are kids that eat the food off the floor of the cafeteria because they are hungry,” said Brinkman.

Teachers have told Brinkman that some children come to school on Monday mornings having not eaten anything since Friday, at least not anything of substance. The NTFB distributes 9,000 backpacks filled with highly nutritious food to these chronically hungry kids every Friday afternoon in over 20 school districts.

“Volunteers come here and fill the backpacks,” said Brinkman “it’s a great sign of hope.”

Jean Sims, Executive Director at the Cedar Hill Food Pantry works with ministers from around the community to send families in need over to the pantry and make sure they receive the proper amount of food.

Junnie Suggs has been coming to the Cedar Hill Food Pantry since August of 2009. The Suggs family moved from Kansas City to Dallas in late July. Suggs said she had a steady job as a banker for eight years but has not been able to find work in Texas.

“I guess a bunch of people need a bunch of jobs so it’s been real difficult,” said Suggs.

Suggs’ daughter works in the thrift store, Second Chance, which helps fund the Cedar Hill Food Pantry. Suggs said she feels like she is able to give back to the place that has helped her family in their time of need.

“My kids haven’t known a hungry night because of the Cedar Hill Food Pantry. They are wonderful, truly,” said Suggs, who has two children.

Brinkman said 10 years ago people came into a food pantry looking for one time emergency aid and in most cases they were back on their feet within 30 days. But hunger has now turned into a chronic issue.

“Do we need to tell Austin? Do we need to tell Washington? What do we need to do to raise our voices and say hunger should not exist here,” said Brinkman.

Brinkman said that $1 provides four meals. She added that, for instance if the 10,000 students at SMU all gave $5 that would add up to $50,000. With $50,000 the NTFB could provide 200,000 meals.

Money isn’t the only option. There are soup kitchens and food pantries all over North Texas who welcome volunteers. SMU junior Ellen Stapleton has found her way helping the community while feeling good herself.

“I like to volunteer because it is important to give yourself, especially to those less fortunate. But I also like to volunteer because I enjoy witnessing acts of selflessness and kindness,” said Stapleton.

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