Jaelyn Nelson (left), head of the Burnet County Hunger Alliance, and volunteer Ginger Craddock of Hoover’s Valley at the mobile food bank at the Hoover Valley Volunteer Fire Department, 303 CR 118B. With the help of the LACare food pantry in Burnet, the alliance provides food for families in the area from 1-3 p.m. the first Saturday of each month. It is one of several gaps in service that the alliance works to fill. Staff photo by Suzanne Freeman
It’s hard to feed the hungry when no food is to be had. In its drive to fight hunger in the Highland Lakes, the Burnet County Hunger Alliance has hit a major bump in the road: a worldwide food shortage that has depleted goods at the Central Texas Food Bank in Austin, which supplies most of the free food distributed in the Highland Lakes.
“For us who go to the grocery store and see the rising cost of food, the empty shelves, the signs limiting how much you can buy, think about how that translates to a food bank,” said Jaelyn Nelson, Hunger Alliance director and food security coordinator for the Highland Lakes Crisis Network.
The Burnet County Hunger Alliance is an umbrella organization over all of the area food pantries. The alliance is part of the HLCN, which serves as the nonprofit entity and can apply for grant money.
To better tell the story of hunger in the Highland Lakes, the HLCN came up with Hunger Awareness Month, based on Feeding America’s Hunger Action Month. It cannot be found in a published list of special days and months, at least not for September. It’s a homegrown advocacy month.
“We wanted to tell people about hunger in our own backyard,” Nelson said of why HLCN decided to have a Hunger Awareness Month. “A lot of time, people don’t think about it being here. They think it’s in the bigger cities or not even in the U.S. Having a Hunger Awareness Month was a great way to say, ‘Here’s the facts in this area.’”
Current numbers show that 12.1 percent of the population of Burnet County is food insecure, meaning they lack reliable access to a sufficient supply of affordable, nutritious food. Nationwide, that number is 10.5 percent.
Increasing food prices and the lack of product due to supply chain issues has made hunger awareness even more essential now as area food pantries are feeling the pinch of dwindling supplies from Austin.
“We are all hurting,” said Sam Pearce, executive director of The Helping Center in Marble Falls. “We used to have six or seven pages to order from the food bank. Now, we get one page. They just don’t have that much right now.”
Part of the problem is a worldwide food shortage.
“The USDA has canceled their food trailer loads,” said Sari Vatske, CEO of Central Texas Food Bank. “They are also having purchasing and supply chain issues. Food banks are not insulated by supply chains but more impacted.”
Much of the food that central food banks receive come from surplus purchased by the U.S. Department of Agriculture directly from production and manufacturing, including chicken and cereal. It comes by the food trailer load, which are 18-wheelers with 53-foot tractor-trailers.
“We are having to buy from the same sources as the grocery stores,” Vatske said.
“I just raced Bessie Jackson to H-E-B for potatoes,” Pearce said as he gave this reporter a tour of the depleted shelves at the center at 1015 Broadway in Marble Falls. “I just bought two cases of hot dogs and 10 pounds of potatoes, and it was $170 because I can’t get them from the Central Texas Food Bank.”
It would have cost $17 from the Austin central food bank.
Jackson is the missionary administrator for St. Frederick’s, which operates a food kitchen from 11:30 a.m. -1 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays and 9 a.m. on Saturdays.
“If you’re looking for potatoes at H-E-B after 4 p.m., you might be out of luck,” Pearce said. “Between the two of us, we sometimes buy them out.”
Local grocers, particularly H-E-B and Walmart, already donate a tremendous amount of food, including bread, vegetables, pastries, and frozen foods.
“Hunger is not a new thing,” Nelson said, when asked about how best to eradicate it. “It will take a joint effort to end it. Maybe the solution is in someone else’s brain and they haven’t thought of it yet. We want to hear from people, we need people to be involved.”
This year, The Picayune Magazine-KBEY 103.9 FM Radio Picayune Food Drive can’t happen soon enough, according to Sam Pearce, executive director of The Helping Center in Marble Falls.
“When we do the KBEY food drive, we’ve really got to hit a home run,” Pearce told The Picayune Magazine. “We need a lot of stuff. We can’t get chili or beans or canned beans. We can’t get any kind of juice. We can’t get milk or bottled water. Protein is another problem.”
Between now and the annual food drive on Nov. 9 from 6 a.m.-3 p.m., KBEY, alongside the Burnet County Hunger Alliance, plans to promote September as Hunger Awareness Month. KBEY will be directing listeners to where and on how to help alleviate the program of hunger in the Highland Lakes.
Two easy ways to donate money are by visiting the websites of The Helping Center in Marble Falls and LACare in Burnet. Both have donate buttons. All you need to do is click on “DONATE” and follow the directions. The Helping Center website is helpingcenter.org. LACare, or Lakes Area Care Inc., can be found online at lacareburnet.org.
Or, you can check out the list of most-needed foods below, buy them yourself, and bring them to any of the area food pantries.
“There’s a food shortage on the planet, in the country, in this state,” Pearce said. “It’s not there. The food bank in Austin doesn’t have it sell us.”
Certain items are becoming scarce at local food pantries. Here’s a list of some of the most-needed items, which recently have not been readily available from the Central Texas Food Bank, where most of the local pantries get their supplies.
Canned meats like Spam, chicken, tuna, potted meat, ham
Cereals of any kind
Canned beans like Ranch Style beans, pinto beans, pork and beans (but not black beans, which are not in big demand)