Monday, September 26, 2011

Food Stamped Screening - THI Lecture Series

The Texas Hunger Initiative will host a screening of "Food Stamped" a film that documents one family's attempt to eat healthy and survive on a food stamp budget.  The screening will take place on Thursday, September 29th at noon at the Baylor School of Social Work.  A panel discussion with Jessica Davila and Sonia White from CitySquare, a poverty focused non-profit in Dallas, will follow.  The event is open to all interested community members.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Increasing School Breakfast in Texas - A VISTA Story

By Mary Agnew - AmericCorps VISTA 
(originally posted on the Food Nutrition Services section of the USDA website)

Growing up in a middle-class household, free and reduced lunch was not part of my vocabulary. Not once did I worry about the availability of my next meal. As an adult, I have joined the AmeriCorps VISTA Anti-Hunger Corps to gain experience in the field of nutrition education in order to reach my goal of becoming a registered dietitian. I had no idea that working at the Texas Hunger Initiative at Baylor University would lead to such an eye-opening experience.

During my college years I did volunteer work sporadically feeding the homeless at a local church. The face of hunger to me was a disheveled person in tattered clothes sleeping on a city bus stop bench. Now, the face of hunger could be the 9-year-old at the elementary school down the street who relies on school meals as his sole source of nutrition. He comes to school Monday lethargic, falls asleep in class and continually asks his teacher “How much longer till lunch?” This is why I feel that school nutrition programs are so vital to our society.

Mary Agnew (left) and Lisa Losasso (Dairy MAX) at a breakfast event at Connally ISD in Waco, Texas, where they talked about why breakfast in the classroom is so important.

Of all the children who qualify for free and reduced lunch in Texas, just over half participate in school breakfast. The goal for my VISTA year is to increase access to school breakfast so that every child in Texas starts the day with food in their belly. The Breakfast in the Classroom program is my main focus, and the program is gaining momentum across the Nation. I developed a Breakfast in the Classroom toolkit and teamed up with Dairy MAX and the USDA to spread the good word about the breakfast program that will bring breakfast participation rates close to 100% while providing kids with the nutrition they need to succeed during the school day. Connally Primary and Elementary school are starting Breakfast in the Classroom August 22, which is the first day of school out here. They are going to do the "Grab and Go" method!"

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

DairyMax and Texas Hunger Initiative present check to Connally ISD for Breakfast in the Classroom

Lisa Losasso (DairyMax) and Mary Agnew (Texas Hunger Initiative) present a check to Connally ISD
        At the Connally ISD school board meeting on September 19th, 2011 DairyMax and the Texas Hunger Initiative (THI) presented a check to assist the costs of running the Breakfast in the Classroom program.  The funds will be used to cover the costs of things like coolers, serving tools, and cleaning supplies.

Connally ISD rolled out the Breakfast in the Classroom program in their primary and elementary schools for the first time in their district this school year.  DairyMax and THI have been working with the district since May, meeting with faculty and staff, presenting the program, running through logistics, and serving as a knowledge base for the program.

Currently only 54% of eligible Texas students eat the free breakfast offered at schools.  Breakfast in the classroom aims to increase breakfast participation to students in need.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Due to Wildfire Disaster SNAP Benefits can be use to purchase hot, prepared foods in Bastrop


Effective immediately, retail food stores licensed by the Food and Nutrition Service to accept SNAP benefits in the following county within Texas under the Presidential Declaration for Individual Assistance can accept SNAP benefits in exchange for HOT foods: Bastrop

These special rules are in effect through October 31, 2011.

If hot foods are purchased with EBT benefits from September 14, 2011, through October 31, 2011, the purchases are NOT subject to sales tax, as the hot foods are considered SNAP eligible.
We encourage all SNAP authorized retail food stores in the above area listed above to post a special notice in the store letting SNAP customers know that they can use their SNAP EBT card to purchase hot foods during this period.

Thank you for helping us in aiding the survivors of this disaster.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Food Deserts and Levitical Law

“From among all the land animals, these are the creatures that you may eat. Any animal that has divided hoofs and is cleft-footed and chews the cud – such you may eat.  But among those that chew the cud or have divided hoofs, you shall not eat etc, etc, etc….” – Leviticus 11

            Levitical food laws are generally a passed over part of the Bible.  It’s not that they seem threatening or confusing but they just seem to have little to offer anyone living in the 21st century.  There are a couple of ways to answer the “why” of Levitical food laws.  Some of the prohibitions can possibly be connected to food safety issues.  Pigs have split hoofs but do not “chew the cud,” so they are prohibited.  Upon visual inspection (the only tool available at the time) pigs are not the cleanest animals.  Pork can carry trichinosis and given the conditions for slaughter and preparation in the ancient world, the disease could pose a serious threat.  The birds prohibited in further passages (v. 13-19) are either full scavengers or birds of prey that also scavenge and it is safe to assume that an animal that eats the rotting remains of other animals probably isn’t the safest thing for a human being to consume.  Levitical law encourages the eating of bugs (v. 21-22), which seems an odd choice for “cleanliness,” but makes sense upon further inspection.  Eating insects has become somewhat of a hipster trend in light of the “sustainable” movement; they are numerous and cultivating them does not impact the earth in the negative way that raising livestock tends to do.  Insects would serve as an excellent source of protein for desert dwellers such as the Israelites (some have argued that the United States should consider rethinking our culinary attitudes towards insects).
            Although there are many more interesting insights that can be made with Levitical law, its main purpose (relevant to our work at the Texas Hunger Initiative) was to serve as a constant reminder from God that Israel was special.   One cannot escape a message that is part of something you experience 3 times a day.  Every meal drove home the fact that Israel was set apart.  In our culture food often serves a similar purpose.  It is more than just nutrition.  Birthdays, anniversaries, and other special celebrations are accompanied by special foods.   Certain types of food can serve as status symbols - both positive and negative.  For individuals in poverty the available foods have significant meaning. 
            23 million Americans live in “food deserts,” communities that do not have grocery stores or other healthy food retailers.  Individuals in such communities, including children, are forced to live on junk food from convenience stores. In food deserts the obtainable foods serve as a negative reminder that one is without.  Poor nutrition in children is a deterrent to education and learning.  Ironically, Obesity runs rampant in lower income communities due to the high number of calories contained in cheap meals.  The lack of consistent to access to healthy and nutritious foods contributes greatly to the cycle of poverty.  As evidenced by Levitcal law, food can serve a positive purpose beyond simple sustenance.  The food desert epidemic is a tragic reversal of the dignity giving properties of food.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Waco and Connally ISD piloting Breakfast in the Classroom

(originally posted on and in the Waco Tribune Herald, reposted with permission)

By Regina Dennis

Tribune-Herald staff writer

South Waco Elementary School third-grader Muneca Araujo sipped chocolate milk after devouring a cereal bar at her desk. But she left her banana untouched.

“Bananas are yucky,” said Muneca, 8, as four other classmates in her cluster of desks peeled into the fruit.

The students ate sack breakfasts provided by the school while teacher Jennifer Traudt read the class a novel, pausing to ask comprehension and vocabulary questions.

Serving breakfast to all students in the classroom — instead of before school and only to some of the students — soon will be part of the norm for a group of local schools.

The Waco and Connally school districts are trying out the Breakfast in the Classroom initiative this year as a way to ensure all kids start the day with a balanced breakfast.

“When I’m hungry, I struggle through the morning on an empty stomach, so this is one way of making sure our students have some sort of meal before they settle into doing schoolwork,” South Waco Principal Jim Patton said. “Even kids who come late to school, they have a breakfast waiting on them when they get here.”

South Waco, North Waco, Dean Highland and Crestview elementaries, along with Alta Vista Montessori School, are testing different models of serving breakfast to the kids.

Connally’s primary and elementary campuses are trying the program before deciding whether to add it for the middle and high school.

Jeremy Everett, director of the nonprofit Texas Hunger Initiative at Baylor University’s School of Social Work, said more than 80 percent of children across the state qualify for free or reduced-price meals at school but only 57 percent participate in the breakfast program.

The Texas Hunger Initiative has been working with 10 districts across the state, including Waco and Connally, to encourage and assist them in rolling out the Breakfast in the Classroom program.

“Right now, we know that a lot of our kids aren’t eating breakfast, or breakfast might consist of a bag of Hot Cheetos and a Big Red,” Everett said. “So we know that A, that’s not going to sustain them through to lunchtime, and B, that’s unhealthy for them.”

Low participation
All of the targeted districts have a student population in which at least 70 percent of the students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch but have low participation in the breakfast program.

Waco ISD has a free, before-school universal breakfast program for all students, whether or not they qualify for free- or reduced meals.

But the district gets only 40 to 50 percent participation at breakfast, said food service manager Scott Anglesey.

One reason for the low participation is some children get to school late.

Patton said when he served as principal of North Waco Elementary, the front office stocked graham crackers and cereal bars for students who came late to make sure they had something to eat before diving into schoolwork.

Some children also may feel some stigma with eating a free breakfast meal before school and opt to avoid shame.

Students are quickly warming up to the new program. In Traudt’s class, Jacob Ramirez, 8, said he likes eating in the classroom better because it’s much quieter than the noisy cafeteria, while 9-year-old Ty’quedra Washington said the breakfast improves her concentration so she doesn’t fall asleep or get tired.

Yadira Talavera, 8, said she didn’t always get to eat breakfast in the cafeteria because it’s hectic getting ready for school at home.

She has a 7-year-old brother and a 4-year-old sister, plus a third sibling on the way. Sometimes, her mother gets kolaches for the family on the way to school.

“We’ve had a lot of different things (in the sack breakfasts),” Yadira said, naming yogurt, cereal bars and a hash brown mixture with eggs and bacon. “My favorite was the breakfast burritos because they have sausage in them.”

Budgeting breakfast
For the most part, the schools are able to expand breakfast to all students without eating into their budgets.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture pays school districts $1.51 per meal for each child who qualifies for free meal service, $1.21 for children under the reduced-meals program, and 27 cents for students who pay for their own meals.

Anglesey said costs $1.38 to prepare one breakfast meal, so as more children eat breakfast, a surplus is created from the free meal reimbursements that the districts use to pay for meals to nonqualifying students and offer healthier food options.

Still, the schools face some costs in packaging the breakfasts.

Also, Dairy MAX, a nonprofit group affiliated with the National Dairy Council, is giving grants to each participating school to help cover expenses of transporting food to the classrooms.

Eventually, the Texas Hunger Initiative hopes to push more districts across the state to move to the Breakfast in the Classroom model.

The nonprofit group also is looking at models for afternoon meals program that could be implemented, giving all students a chance to receive a third free meal during the school week.

“This exists to try to build healthier kids,” Everett said. “You need a healthy, educated workforce. If our kids aren’t eating, then they’re not going to be educated and they’re not going to be healthy, because they can’t remember what they learned (without proper nourishment).”

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Blueprint to End Hunger Launches Today

The Texas Food Bank Network, Baylor University’s Texas Hunger Initiative and First Choice Power today released “Hunger by the Numbers: A Blueprint for Ending Hunger in Texas.” The report includes a hunger scorecard for each of the 254 counties of Texas, a state which ranks second in the nation for food insecurity. The report provides a road map with resources for funding and programs to fight at a local, statewide and national level.

 “This is the first time one report measures and describes the extent of hunger and its potential solutions in each of Texas’ counties,” said Barbara Anderson, executive director of the Texas Food Bank Network, a coalition of the 19 food banks in Texas.

The report comes on the heels of this morning’s announcement by the U.S. Department of Agriculture that Texas has the second highest rate of hunger in the nation.

Hunger by the Numbers: A Blueprint for Ending Hunger in Texas incorporates the newest national data on hunger made available by Feeding America, the nation’s network of food banks, along with U.S. Census data and statewide data on usage of federal and state programs.

“As Texans read this report, they will learn some startling facts about the size of the hunger problem in their state, which currently ranks second worst in the nation when it comes to hunger,” said Jeremy Everett, executive director of the Texas Hunger Initiative. “They also may be surprised to learn the extent of the hunger problems in their own back yards.”

Hunger reaches every area of the state: 18 percent are food insecure in Harris County, home to the fourth largest city in the nation; 24 percent are food insecure in Hidalgo County, the gateway to Mexico; 16 percent are food insecure in Travis County, where state leaders meet to discuss how to combat these issues. Even Montgomery County, home to The Woodlands and some of the state’s most affluent zip codes, has a food insecurity rate of 15 percent, meaning one in seven residents face hunger.

Along with compiled hunger data county-by-county, the report lists the resources available in each community to address hunger. Those resources include: SNAP (formally food stamps), free and reduced breakfast and lunch in schools, WIC and other federal programs.

First Choice Power, a retail electric provider in Texas, sponsored the report as part of its Food FirstTM program, which was created to fight hunger in the communities it serves.

“Take a moment to look over this insightful report and ask what you can do to fight hunger in our own backyard,” said Brian Hayduk, president of First Choice Power. “We believe the greatest energy source in our state is its people.  And we are convinced that an informed community will be an engaged community.”

A copy of the blueprint is available here.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Blueprint to End Hunger Launches Tomorrow!

Tomorrow the Texas Hunger Initiative, in partnership with the Texas Food Bank Network and First Choice Power, will release "Hunger by the Numbers: A Blueprint for Ending Hunger in Texas,” a 508 page "report card" of sorts for hunger issues and statistics in all 254 Texas counties.  Check back tomorrow for more details.