Inside Texas Tech: Texas Hunger Initiative

Jul 6, 2018

Feeling hungry is a physical sensation. Being food insecure is different and a more daunting challenge to those aiming to help. One in four children in Lubbock County and one in three in neighboring counties are food insecure.

The US Department of Agriculture defines food insecurity as a lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life. A coalition in Lubbock is working to help children 18 and younger have access to healthy meals this summer.

“We need the community to come together and support something like this, because hunger is related to so many other issues,” says Andy Black, the director of Lubbock’s regional office of the Texas Hunger Initiative. "We’re talking about education. We’re talking about future employment. We’re talking just about, how do we connect young people in our community with the resources they need.”

The organization is housed at Baylor University. It helps support the efforts of the South Plains Hunger Solutions, a coalition of organizations working to help South Plains’ residents have access to healthy food.

“We’re the people behind the people. Our job is to help all of the organizations, agencies, churches, even government funded programs that exist in our region—help them do what they do even better and more effectively through helping facilitate these partnerships.”

During the school year, students 18 and under in public and nonprofit private schools and residential child care institutions who are food insecure get nutritionally balanced, low-cost or free lunches each day through the National School Lunch Program.

During the summer the coalition works to coordinate free lunches and in some cases breakfasts for youngsters at nearly 50 locations around the city.

Some of the meals program started in May. But days and times are different for many of the 50 locations. Some are only for June, some are only two days a week, while others are five days a week. More information on where meals are available can be learned by dialing 211 or by texting ‘FoodTx’ to 877-877.

“Hunger is complicated and how we address it is going to be so contextual. It requires everyone,” Black says. “It requires the gifts, the resources, the different kinds of commitments and the enthusiasm of everyone in the community…and that’s what we’re here to do is to highlight that, try to harness it, and to do that informed by the best practices that we can see around the state and around the country.”

The South Plains Food Bank, The YWCA of Lubbock, and the Lubbock and Frenship school districts make up the coalition. The USDA and the Texas Department of Agriculture work with these organizations to offer the free meals at schools, churches, recreation centers, parks and other locations.

Three groups in the coalition work on its mission: There’s a team for children, a team for seniors and one for horticulture and gardening. The South Plains Food Bank also delivers fresh, healthy meals to sites in many counties throughout the region.

“All four of those entities are making available these free summer meals and they’re all doing great work,” he says.

Black says there are so many individuals or groups that want to help that the challenge is to avoid duplicating services. And sometimes communications between those working to help those with food insecurity aren’t adequate.

“The challenge that comes with that is just simply that it’s a lot of individuals—whether it’s an individual person or organization—it depends on that group’s initiative. And they’re limited what they can see, and what resources they have and through no fault of their own that just means everyone is doing what they can. It’s just that that can lead to duplication.”

The Texas Hunger Initiative aims to better organize the community as it works to help those who are food insecure.

“What we mean by that, in the context of our work, is bringing all of those different kinds of resources together and saying, ‘who does what best and how can we all know who’s doing what,’ and in the process we’re also going to be identifying what are the gaps,” he explains.

Take part in a poverty simulation facilitated by TTU Health Sciences Center faculty and students Tuesday, August 14 from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Knipling Education Center.