by Robert Miller Dallas Morning News
12:00 AM CDT on Sunday, June 14, 2009
The nonprofit North Texas Food Bank is rated one of the top 10 food banks in the nation, but that offers little comfort in the face of an almost insurmountable challenge to meet the summer needs of the hungry during a recession.
As food bank president and CEO Jan Pruitt pointed out: “Not everyone here in North Texas is looking forward to summer. In fact, summer can be the hungriest time of the year for thousands of North Texas children and their families.
“According to a new report released by our national office, Feeding America, Texas still has the highest rate of children who are ‘food insecure’ at 22 percent. That means 1.4 million kids in Texas live in fear of hunger or don’t have consistent access to food.
“And once schools close for the summer, kids who depend on their schools’ free and reduced-price meal programs are often left wondering where their next meal will come from.”
The North Texas Food Bank is especially focused on its three children’s programs, Kid Café, Food 4 Kids and Summer Lunch Box.
“We are nearly quadrupling the number of kids we are serving this year,” Pruitt said. “In 2008, we served 1,200, and this year we plan to serve 4,750.”
As for serving the public, Pruitt said, “Last summer, we launched our Close the Gap three-year strategic plan with goals of doubling our distribution by 2011 from 29 million meals annually to 50 million meals for those people living at or below the federal poverty level.
“Then the economic downturn hit, and our pantries and feeding programs started getting inundated with people who never had to ask for help before. This trend has continued to grow, and now we find ourselves struggling to keep up with the demand.”
Pruitt said that this month alone, the food bank needs to raise $400,000 in cash for staples such as milk, beans and canned goods for member agencies.
The North Texas Food Bank expects to close the funding gap through two key initiatives – increasing distribution and expanding the Food Stamp Outreach program. Agency infrastructure will be strengthened, underserved areas will receive additional support and more nutritious products will be available.
The food bank supports children, families and seniors through education, advocacy and strategic partnerships in serving 260 member agencies in 13 North Texas counties. It provides food to 917 feeding and education programs.
Every dollar it receives provides the equivalent of four meals, and 97 cents out of every dollar donated goes directly to hunger relief.
Many casual observers are aware only of the Food Bank’s main program, which gathers donations of perishable and nonperishable food as well as nonfood items such as diapers, toothpaste, detergents and cleaning supplies that cannot be purchased with food stamps. In fact, the agency does much more.
Its Rural Produce Initiative distributes fresh produce to agencies outside Dallas County. In fiscal year 2008, the program delivered more than 3.7 million pounds of produce to seven rural North Texas counties.
And 7,500 eligible participants receive an estimated 32 pounds of surplus USDA commodities each month at 98 PAN distribution sites in Dallas County. PAN is a partnership of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Health & Human Services Commission, Catholic Charities of Dallas Inc. and the North Texas Food Bank.
The program’s success depends upon partners, which include the First United Methodist Church of Dallas, the Texas Second Chance Program of the Dawson State Prison, the Texas Restaurant Association and the Culinary Arts program of El Centro College.
In addition, American Express, the Meadows Foundation and Philip Morris have made significant financial contributions to the Community Kitchen program.
The Dallas Hunger Link, in operation since 1986, collects surplus prepared perishable food from more than 73 donor hotels, restaurants, cafeterias and other food service businesses.
The food is frozen, and specially trained Hunger Link drivers pick it up in refrigerated trucks and distribute it to on-site meal programs throughout Dallas.
The food bank’s Mobile Pantry program provides emergency food boxes that include enough food for one person for 4 ½ days. The food bank delivers food boxes to more than 160 families and 270 individuals each month.
The North Texas Food Bank also helps people apply for food stamps and is one of the few food banks in the United States that offers nutrition classes.
In December 1997, the North Texas Food Bank formed a partnership with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice called Texas Second Chance. It allows selected prison inmates to volunteer at the Food Bank up to four days a week. On average, 20 inmates work at the Food Bank during each visit.
The fundraising goal for the year ending June 30 was $13.7 million.
Your contributions in food, nonfood items and cash will be appreciated. Call 214-347-9593 or visit www.ntfb.org.