You are here

Better Neighbors | October 2014: Food Security and Hunger In Texas

Submitted by Sean Hennigan on Wed, 10/01/2014 - 11:25am

In This Month's Newsletter:

Our faith traditions call us to serve our care for the least of our brothers and love our neighbors. But the needs can seem overwhelming and it can be hard to get started. Better Neighbors is a monthly toolkit to help you and your congregation make a difference in your local community. Each month we focus on one area of need, giving you practical steps to take action and learn more. Better Neighbors is a project of Texas Impact, Texas' oldest and largest statewide interfaith network.

Getting a Handle on Hunger

On any given day, an estimated 4.2 million Texans are at risk of hunger. It is estimated that one in four of our state’s children live in families that cannot afford healthy food on a consistent basis. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Texas is the second-hungriest state in the nation.

Congregations are often the first places those in need turn to for assistance. Understanding the facts about hunger in our communities helps us address immediate needs and work for sustainable solutions.

Food policy experts often use the terms “food insecurity” and “food desert.” In our Summer Meals Promotion and our Digging Deeper section you can learn more about how you and your faith community can take action to alleviate hunger in your backyard.

Food Insecurity

Food insecurity is the most broadly used measure of food deprivation in the United States. It specifically refers to lack of food access based on financial and other material resources. Sometimes people use other terms to describe food insecurity such as “hungry or at risk of hunger,” or "hungry or faced with the threat of hunger."

The USDA defines food insecurity to mean "consistent access to adequate food is limited by a lack of money and other resources at times during the year." The term "food insecurity" encompasses both outright hunger and the coping mechanisms that households use to avoid hunger.

Texas ranks among the top twelve states in terms of food insecurity rates, and second in terms of the number of food insecure households.

Food Desert

Food deserts play a role in both hunger and obesity. The USDA defines food deserts as "urban neighborhoods and rural towns without ready access to fresh, healthy, and affordable food." Food deserts are typically areas that lack grocery stores, farmers’ markets, and healthy food providers.

While food deserts are often short on whole food providers, especially those that supply fresh fruits and vegetables, they may have concentrations of convenience stores, which often provide the high fat, highly processed, sugar-heavy foods that are known contributors to obesity. The presence of food deserts helps to explain why Texas has both a high food insecurity rate and one of the nation’s highest rates of obesity. Often, the most inexpensive and easily available foods have the highest fat and calorie count and the lowest nutritional value.

One way that faith communities can help provide healthy foods for children in need is to participate in the Summer Food Service Program, this month's Summer Meals Promotion.

Two programs designed specifically to address hunger in the U.S. are the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the National School Lunch Program (NSLP). SNAP, formerly known as food stamps, is a federal benefits program that offers nutrition assistance to millions of eligible, low-income individuals and families and provides economic benefits to communities. The USDA administers the SNAP program at the federal level, while the Texas Health Human Service Commission administers the program at the state level.

NSLP is a federally assisted meal program providing nutritionally balanced, low‐cost or free meals, along with reimbursement for snacks served in after school educational and enrichment programs, to children in need through 18 years of age. The Food and Nutrition Service administers the program at the federal level. In Texas, the Texas Department of Agriculture administers NSLP at the state level.

Become a Summer Meals Site with USDA!

Could your congregation or organization distribute free food to feed hungry kids next summer? Each summer, 22.3 million students are at risk of going hungry when the school year ends and school lunches are no longer available. For many children, school meals are the only complete and nutritious meals they eat during their day, and in the summer they go without.

Your congregation can help by becoming a Summer Meals site with the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) and assist in helping children receive free nutritious meals when school is not in session. The SFSP is a program of the USDA and the Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA) and exists as a resource for bringing healthy food to those who are in need. Summer Food programs bridge the gap during the summer months for those individuals that participate in the free and reduced lunch and breakfast programs during the school year.

For Texas communities TDA is the primary contact for the SFSP. TDA administers the SFSP through a program within its Food and Nutrition Division, the Square Meals program. TDA is actively seeking partners to help provide food and encourages faith communities and non-profit organizations to participate in the Summer Food Program. Congregations can support the Summer Food program by becoming a sponsor or by partnering with a sponsor as an individual site.

TDA reimburses groups or organizations that provide free meals to children during the summer in areas or at sites where more than 50 percent of the children are eligible for free or reduced-price meals under the National School Lunch Program.

Congregations can learn more about the program at Texas Faith and Food or under the “Do More” section of our newsletter. Find out how to become a Summer Meals site by accessing Texas Impact’s Summer Meals Toolkit.

Understanding Texas Government: Food Security

capitol graphic

Texas Department of Agriculture

The Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA) was established by the 13th Texas Legislature in 1907 and is the state agency that is charged with all matters concerning agriculture and rural community affairs. TDA houses a Food and Nutrition Department (F&N) that oversees the School Meals Program and the Summer Meals program in Texas.

Texas Health and Human Services Commission

The Texas Health and Human Service Commission (HHSC) oversees the operations of the health and human services system, provides administrative oversight of Texas health and human services programs, and directly administers some of the programs. HHSC is responsible for administering a few federal benefits programs in Texas including SNAP, Medicaid, Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).

United States Department of Agriculture

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is the federal agency responsible for developing and executing federal policy on farming, agriculture, forestry, and food. The USDA houses the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), a department of the agency that works with state agencies (like the TDA); nutrition educators; and neighborhood and faith-based organizations to ensure that those eligible for nutrition assistance can make informed decisions about applying for the program and can access benefits.

Want to Dig Deeper?

The Texas Hunger Initiative (THI) out of Baylor University seeks to develop and implement strategies to end hunger through policy, education, community organizing, and community development. THI in partnership with Texas Foodbank Network’s "2011 Hunger by the Numbers: A Blueprint for Ending Hunger in Texas" offers a county-by-county breakdown of hunger statistics and hunger resources across the state of Texas.

Feeding America’s "Hunger in America" 2014 study is the nation’s largest and most comprehensive insight into charitable food distribution in the United States. The data presented in Hunger in America helps to guide the development of programs and solutions that improve food security for individuals and their households and inform public policy and support for solving hunger in America.

Interested in becoming a Summer Meals site with the Summer Food Service Program? Check out our Summer Meals Toolkit here.

Interested in starting a community garden? Visit to learn more.

The No Kid Hungry campaign connects kids in need with nutritious food and teaches their families how to cook healthy, affordable meals. The campaign also engages the public to make ending child hunger a national priority.

Texas Impact’s "Health and Strength and Daily Food" website provides information about state and national enterprises aimed at alleviating hunger. By visiting you and your congregation can learn more about hunger in Texas, how to provide healthy nutritious food to those in need, and what you can do to address childhood obesity in your community.

More than one million individuals in Texas qualify for life saving food or health benefits but are not enrolled to receive them. Is your congregation interested in how to better be in community with low-income families in your neighborhood or city?

If so, the Community Partner Program is a great opportunity for you!

Texans can now apply online for public benefit programs like CHIP, TANF, SNAP and Medicaid through the Texas Health and Human Services Commission's (HHSC) new online portal. Recognizing that many low-income families do not have Internet access or might need additional help, the Community Partner Program is a state initiative that allows local congregations to assist low-income Texans in applying for needed benefits.

Through HHSC's Community Partner Recruitment Initiative, Texas Impact is working with HHSC, the Texas Hunger Initiative and the Texas Association of Community Health Centers to recruit communities of faith and other local nonprofit organizations to provide internet access and/or trained volunteers to help low-income families apply for state benefit programs.

Texas Impact has a team of AmeriCorps VISTA volunteers in offices throughout Texas who would love the opportunity to come speak about the program with your faith group or lead a presentation or event for the local community at your organization.

For more information, contact Andrea Earl at or Scott Atnip at

Better Neighbors provides information on a different public policy issue with local implications every month. In addition to the newsletter, you will also have other opportunities to engage around the monthly focus through webinars, phone calls, and in-person events throughout the state.

In October, we invite you to the following opportunities to learn more about Food Security and Hunger:

  • October TBA: Presentations by Better Neighbors Team in Tyler, TX. Learn more here.
  • October 24 at 11:00am: Conference Call to focus on Food Security and the Community Partner Recruitment Initiative.

           Dial in: (712) 432-3066, Conference Code: 424548.

We encourage you to share this information with people in your network. For more information, contact Congregational Outreach Director Scott Atnip.

Texas Impact logoTexas Impact was established by Texas religious leaders in 1973 to be a voice in the Texas legislative process for the shared religious social concerns of Texas' faith communities. Texas Impact is supported by more than two-dozen Christian, Jewish and Muslim denominational bodies, as well as hundreds of local congregations, ministerial alliances and interfaith networks, and thousands of people of faith throughout Texas. Texas Impact and our sister organization, the Texas Interfaith Center for Public Policy, provide theologically-grounded public policy educational resources on our member organization's shared social concerns and opportunities for advocacy for people of faith.


Christian Church (Disciples of Christ): Southwest Region, Bluebonnet Area, Central Area, Coastal Plains Area, North Texas Area, Trinity-Brazos Area * Episcopal Church: Diocese of West Texas * Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA): Northern TX-Northern LA Synod, TX-LA Gulf Coast Synod, Southwestern Texas Synod * Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.): Grace Presbytery, Mission Presbytery, New Covenant Presbytery, Palo Duro Presbytery, Tres Rios Presbytery * United Methodist Church: Central Texas Conference, North Texas Conference, Northwest Texas Conference, Southwest Texas Conference, Texas Conference * Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission * United Church of Christ: South Central Conference * Society of Friends : South Central Yearly Meeting * Texas Unitarian Universalist Justice Ministry * American Jewish Committee * American Jewish Congress * Jewish Federation of Dallas * Muslim Freedom and Justice Foundation of Texas * Interfaith Action of Central Texas (iACT) * San Antonio Community of Congregations * Tarrant Area Community of Churches * Interfaith Ministries for Greater Houston * United Methodist Women * Church Women United in Texas * National Council of Jewish Women * Dominican Sisters of Houston


President-Reverend Dr. Whitney Bodman | Vice President-Richard Ertel | Secretary-Amanda Quraishi

Treasurer-Reverend Jim McClain | Executive Director-Bee Moorhead