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The Houston area has the third-highest number of food insecure individuals in the country. According to Feeding America , on any given day, 66,000 individuals in southeast Texas experience the pain of hunger and have no food: 5,000 are children. One in four children in southeast Texas is food insecure, or at risk of being hungry. Overall, one in five people in Texas is food insecure. Data also shows that, to make ends meet, 78 percent of the families served by Houston Food Bank (HFB) have compensated their grocery shortfalls by purchasing unhealthy, low-nutrient foods.
Unfortunately, not only do local children and families have little access to enough nutritious food, but they are also at higher risk for a host of other negative health factors. According to the Food Research and Action Center, food insecurity has direct and indirect impacts on physical and mental health for people of all ages. Food insecurity is especially detrimental to the health, development and well-being of children in the short and long term. Children who live in households that are food insecure are likely to be sick more often, recover from illness slowly and be hospitalized more frequently.
To meet this need in the Houston area, HFB started its Backpack Buddy program. On Fridays, at participating schools and other locations, children are provided nonperishable, easy to eat, nutrient-dense food to take home over the weekend. Children who have reliable access to nutritious meals are able to pay attention in class, process learned information and retain knowledge more easily than children that are undernourished.
Backpack Buddy complements school feeding programs and acts as a safety net providing children reliable, nutritious food outside of school. Specific contents of the Backpack Buddy food sacks include: one serving of low-fat milk, eight servings of fruits and/or vegetables (either 100% fruit juice, canned fruit in 100% juice or vegetables), two servings of whole grains and two servings of protein.The long-term goals for the program are to provide more proactive wrap-around services to children and families at all participating sites. HFB staff work closely with site staff to identify opportunities to link partners with other area nonprofits that can facilitate services for a range of client needs, such as nutrition education, SNAP application assistance or job skills training.
HFB’s Outreach Services staff consistently work to expand the program to more schools and counties, including those in rural areas where food insecurity is a big problem. During the 2017-2018 school year, HFB staff distributed 414,006 food sacks at 679 area schools. The program served approximately 12,000 children in 11 counties each month. The goal for the 2018-2019 school year is to distribute 450,000 backpacks at 725 sites.
BCBSTX’s new collaboration with Feeding America builds on our longstanding efforts to help members and communities be at their best. This includes efforts through our Healthy Kids Healthy Families® initiative focused on promoting healthy, active and safe communities and supporting organizations and programs addressing hunger and food insecurity. We have partnered with HFB for the last 10 years and look forward to continuing to work together to combat food insecurity in the southeast Texas region. In 2018, we worked together to provide more than 120 kids with backpacks for the entire school year—a total of 36,000 meals.
HFB is the largest food bank in the United States in meals distributed to partner agencies and a member of Feeding America, the largest hunger-relief charity in the nation. Leading the Fight Against Hunger since 1982, HFB continues to feed the hungry by distributing 122 million nutritious meals annually through nearly 1,500 hunger-relief charities in Houston and southeast Texas.
Recently named Food Bank of the Year by Feeding America, HFB provided nutritious food for approximately 800,000 individuals last year throughout its 18-county service area. Thanks to strong community partnerships, HFB is able to stretch every $1 donation to provide an individual with a full day’s worth of meals. To learn more about the Houston Food Bank, visit their website at: https://www.houstonfoodbank.org/.
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