The Challenge of Food Insecurity in the Austin Area
It’s Friday afternoon and your classmates are eagerly waiting for the bell to ring, unable to focus on the week’s final lesson, so excited for the weekend ahead. You’re having a hard time focusing too, but for a completely different reason…food insecurity. The weekend is here and you’re not sure where your next meal may come from. This scenario is all too common in Austin and the surrounding communities. In fact, 1 in 4 students in our area don’t have access to enough food.
Factors contributing to the current situation include issues of distribution related to Covid, increasing prices and limited access to healthy food along with a higher cost of living, housing and transportation.
Research shows that children who suffer from food insecurity are more likely to have lower math scores and repeat a grade, as well as face challenges in other areas such as language, motor skills, and behavior. Children need nutrients so they can grow, develop, and focus on learning instead of thinking about the food they need.
If you are looking for ways to help solve this issue in your local community there are many options open to you and your family. Here is a list of a few resources that we are aware of:
Also each school district has a Community Foundation (ie. https://www.rrisdeducationfoundation.org/)
We had the privilege of spending some time with founder of HopeAustin, Monica Von Waaden, to volunteer and learn first hand about this organization. Each week HopeAustin helps to ensure that local students are food secure while away from subsidized meal programs offered during the school day. Currently, HopeAustin provides for over 2,500 students each week in 86 local schools in 6 school districts ( Round Rock ISD, Leander ISD, Austin, ISD, Manor ISD, Elgin ISD, Lago Vista ISD). Through their strong partnerships with the school districts they identify the needs at each school so they can deliver meals directly to the school where counselors and administrators disseminate meal kits each Friday before students head home from school. Despite the pandemic and students going virtual for an amount of time, they have been able to pivot and create innovative solutions ensuring all students whether on campus or virtual are receiving their much-needed food items.
HopeAustin offers these meal programs for students:
Meal Kit Program—Where each identified student receives a meal kit each Friday containing 2 breakfasts, 2 lunches, 2 dinners, 2 snacks and Fairlife Protein Drink. Each kit contains 68-72 grams of protein.
Snack Support Program—Where identified elementary students who are not able to bring snacks to school receive a snack during the school day to ensure proper fueling of mind and body.
Shak Program—This program is in place in the middle and high schools where autonomy of choice is essential. The Shaks ( named after the mascot at each school—Ex. Westwood has the Warrior Shak) have all the items in the meal kits plus many more items for our students to select for themselves. It is open to all students to ensure no one is called out for being different. Middle and High School aged students would rather go hungry than being known as the student who is food insecure. This program meets them where they are in their journey.
Family Meal Box Program—Due to Covid, many more families are struggling and facing hunger. Since the onset of this issue, HopeAustin began serving families in the greatest need as identified by school social workers. Each identified family receives a family box containing boxes of cereal, canned tuna, canned chicken, canned veggie/fruit, peanut butter, boxes of mac and cheese, plus other panty essentials.
Through all of their HopeAustin Food Programs, they are placing food directly into the hands of students who rely upon them each week. There are many ways to be involved including holding a food drive in your neighborhood, workplace, etc, volunteering to assemble meal kits and/or to deliver them to area schools, and through monetary donations. More information about how you can volunteer your time or resources at HopeAustin can be found at http://www.hope4austin.org/. Help them end hunger one child at a time.