Texans should not have to go hungry

Posted Sunday, Aug. 25, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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In the fun of summer, a most unsettling image often gets overlooked: the faces of hunger. Many of them are the youngest Texans.

More than 2.3 million Texas schoolchildren participate in the free and reduced-price meal programs during the school year. But, when school is out for summer, far too many of those children experience difficulty accessing healthy meals.

The numbers are quite staggering.

More than 685,000 young Texans missed out on the summer meal programs available to them. The drop-off in participation can be due to a number of contributing factors, including logistics and promotion for the local community agencies that work to bridge the gap for these young people.

The Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) recently released a study showing that approximately 11 percent of Texas children who participated in free and reduced-price meal programs during school also took part in summer meal programs.

And while those numbers have increased in recent years, far too many Texas youth are struggling to get fed.

Summer is also a difficult season for area food banks that help meet the needs of the 18.7 percent of Texas families struggling to afford to put food on the table.

Data from Feeding America put Texas well above the national average of 16.4 percent for food insecurity.

According to the Texas Hunger Initiative at Baylor University’s School of Social Work, 4.2 million Texans are “food insecure,” meaning they have uncertain or inadequate access to food.

Texas ranks second in the nation for overall food insecurity.

The reality is we’re simply not doing enough to address hunger in our state — or our nation, though there are some bright spots.

Addressing our hunger crisis will require a coordinated and robust commitment across community organizations, state and federal government and the private sector.

This past legislative session we made strong progress at the state level with the passage of Senate Bill 376, which was signed into law by Gov. Rick Perry.

As a result, this fall, every young Texan enrolled in a school where 80 percent or more of its students qualify for free or reduced-price meals will have access to a healthy breakfast each morning.

The private sector also has taken great strides in helping to eradicate childhood hunger.

Yum! Brands, the parent company of KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell, is doing its part through events like Yum! Day at the Capitol supporting Texas’ food banks and raising awareness about the issue among Texas legislators and their constituents.

Through its Harvest Program, Yum! and its franchise restaurant locations also donated more than 1.4 million pounds of food to local Texas relief agencies in 2012 alone.

We have a responsibility to make sure no child is prevented from reaching his or her full potential because of worries about where the next meal will come from.

All of us — government, community organizations and the private sector — need to follow these examples by stepping up to take this issue on in big ways.

Some 2 million Texas children will go to bed hungry tonight, and many of their moms and dads are struggling to stay nourished, too.

That’s truly a tragedy and one that demands our attention and our action.

State Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. represents the Brownsville area, and state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte is from San Antonio. Both are Democrats.

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