The Texas Department of Agriculture cut its food bank funding by 44% on Oct. 1.
The $1.9 million cut was made to the Surplus Agricultural Product Grant, which helps food banks procure fresh produce from local growers.
The East Texas Food Bank reported, with this cut, it will receive $92,373 less in funding, which will result in 738,984 less pounds of produce going out to East Texans. That equates to a loss of 615,820 meals. The cut applies for Fiscal Year 2020-2021.
This cut was made due to a directive from Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick and House Speaker Dennis Bonnen in May to trim agency budgets by 5% in anticipation of a shortfall in state revenue due to the coronavirus pandemic and government-mandated lockdown.
East Texas Food Bank CEO Dennis Cullinane said the grant provides aid to groups hit hardest by the pandemic: Texans who lost their jobs and farmers who saw their businesses disappear nearly overnight.
“Why would we cut funding so drastically for a program that feeds hungry people and supports struggling farmers,” Cullinane asked.
The East Texas Food bank said since the pandemic hit in March, the demand at food banks has doubled across the state.
Cullinane added that East Texas was already facing a hunger crisis before the pandemic hit and now the issue has been amplified.
The East Texas Food Bank estimates, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of East Texans facing hunger increased 5% and the number of children increased 10%, which means now, nearly one in four East Texans, including one in three children, are facing hunger every day.
At the peak of its emergency response, the East Texas Food Bank reported it served approximately 74 more families and 33% more meals than the same time last year.
The Surplus Agricultural Product Grant helped Texas food banks, like the East Texas Food Bank, procure 33 million pounds of fresh produce for Texans experiencing hunger this year and increased consumption of fresh produce improves health outcomes and reduces healthcare costs and that this is why the program has enjoyed broad support and was expanded by the state legislature in recent years.
“This program is a win-win for the state, and a cornerstone of our ability to provide healthy food to Texans during their moments of need,” Cullinane said. “Surely we can find a less harmful way to trim the state budget. I am urging TDA and the Governor’s office to reverse the cut.”
The East Texas Food Bank provides more than 21 million meals each year to 200 partner agencies in 26 East Texas counties, including Palestine’s First Resource Center.
This cut will most likely impact the amount of produce the Resource Center receives from the East Texas Food Bank for its first Friday community produce pick-ups.
First Resource Center has continued to serve the needs of our community throughout the coronavirus pandemic, providing food to almost 500 families each month in Anderson County through its food pantry programs.
In a typical month, the center purchases and distributes $3,700 of food from the East Texas Food Bank in Tyler, but additional donations from grocery stores, food distributors, and people have increased their supply and helped to meet the community’s growing needs.
In response to COVID-19, First Resource Center initiated a non-contact drive-through service in March to protect volunteers and clients from COVID-19.
Clients drive into the parking lot, call the center, and make requests by phone. A volunteer places the food inside each client’s vehicle.
“Throughout the COVID Pandemic, we have remained steady in our support of the community with 300 plus families serviced monthly from the pantry program, over 90 senior citizens each month receiving Senior Boxes and the produce drop averaging another 240 plus families getting help on a monthly basis,” said Kurt Sohn, chairman of the board. “We continue to see our cost of food increase, so cash or check donations are helping to keep the pantry full. We also need more volunteers to help out, including drivers, and those that can help with order filling and order taking”
They are also looking for a new location/facility to move into. This is the center’s immediate need due to the fact that the building it currently occupies is now on the market.
They will also need bell ringers during the holiday season for the annual Salvation Army Kettle collection. Sohn said last year’s collection brought in over $30,000, which has been much needed during the COVID pandemic.
Anyone wanting to donate, should mail the donation to First Resource Center, PO Box 4366, Palestine, TX 75801-4366. Gifts are tax deductible.