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COVID-19 increases number of Texas children going hungry

By Roz Brown

Texas News Service

AUSTIN, Texas — More than two million children are suffering from food insecurity in Texas, where the rate has increased more than 7% since the start of the pandemic.

Harris County, which includes Houston, has 360,000 kids experiencing food insecurity.

Meredith Reid, Texas deputy director for Save the Children, said it’s not just affecting urban areas, but also rural areas, which traditionally tend to be underserved.

“In Texas, one of our most rural communities, which is Zavala County; Zavala County has the fourth highest child food insecurity rate in the nation,” Reid pointed out, where one in every two children experience food insecurity.

Upon taking office last week, President Joe Biden signed an executive order directing the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to allow states to increase SNAP benefits, or food stamps, to the lowest-income recipients.

Tamara Sandberg, U.S. advisor for food security and nutrition for Save the Children, noted the organization has distributed more than 200,000 boxes of food through the Farmers to Families Food Box Program offered by the USDA. She said that’s about 30 pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables, cooked meat, and dairy and milk products, in rural communities.

“But what we’re seeing is just the amount of people who have never had to have help putting food on the table before that are really struggling because of this pandemic,” Sandberg explained.

Hunger impacts children’s school performance, and according to Reid, that has required growing new partnerships between nonprofits and school districts to get meals to kids.

“Developing partnerships with churches and other community organizations that are serving children so that now that we can collectively wrap our arms around it, you have to sometimes slow down to speed up, and we’ve been able to do that,” Reid concluded.

Widespread school closures due to COVID-19 have affected many children, but especially the 30 million who rely on free or reduced-price meals.