More than anywhere else the country, children in Texas don't know where they'll get their next meal.
That's according to a recent study by Feeding America, the nation's food-bank network, which analyzed stats on "household food insecurity" published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. According to the report, the rate of childhood food insecurity for Texas children under the age of 18 is 22.1 percent, the highest in the nation. The national average is 17 percent. The rate for Texas children under the age of 5 is 23.3 percent, the fifth-highest in the country.
"Food insecurity" means not knowing where your next meal is coming from.
Brian Greene, president and CEO of Houston Food Bank, tells Hair Balls that the reasons are at least twofold. For starters, he says, Texas is doing well economically, compared to many other areas of the country, and is attracting lots of low-income families who are moving to Texas for work and opportunity. They have families with children, are stretched thin as it is, and do not have much extra to help the needy.
Secondly, says Greene, food assistance for children in Texas is well below the national average. Food-stamp usage in Houston, for instance, says Greene, is very low, as only around 40 percent of those eligible for food stamps here actually receive them.
In order to get food stamps, says Greene, the individual must show up in person at a food stamp office. But many of these offices have recently closed, he says, making it much more difficult for people to find and get to a place that gives them out.
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Greene says he would like to see organizations like his, which is made of a network of 400 charities, to be able to administer the food stamps, making it easier for those in need to get to a location that offers them.
"We reach a half a million people a year," says Greene, "and if people could apply for food stamps at our charities it would make a big difference."
Another partial solution, says Greene, are school lunch and breakfast programs. If the participation rate were to increase, it would go a long way to making sure the state's children don't go hungry.
On Saturday, anyone can lend a hand by being part of the National Association of Letter Carriers Stamp Out Hunger food drive. Just leave nonperishable food in your mailbox and let your mailman do the rest.