If you do your own grocery shopping, you have likely noticed the spike in prices for some foods. If you do your own grocery shopping and make less than $26,650 a year – the 2007 Federal Poverty Income Guideline for a family of four – then you have not only noticed the increase in food prices, but you may have received assistance from the Hays County Area Food Bank.
According to Pat Tessaro, executive director of the food bank, “we have seen a 21% increase in the number of people helped from January to March in 2008” when compared to the same two-month period in 2007.
The Hays County Area Food Bank has served hungry persons and families in San Marcos, Kyle, Buda, Uhland, Wimberley and Martindale since 1984. And although the permanent staff at the food bank is small, the food bank has a substantial impact on the quality of life for low-income and poverty-stricken people.
Of all 50 states, Texas has the highest rate of food insecurity, which is a condition that exists when a person lacks sustainable economic and physical access to adequate nutritious, safe food for a healthy lifestyle. “One in four children and one in five adults in the Austin area are food insecure,” Tessaro said.
The Basic Needs Coalition of Central Texas, which aims to eliminate the effects of poverty and promote self-sufficiency, calculated the cost of living in the Austin-San Marcos area for two parents and two children at $53,080 – more than double the federal poverty line. This figure is called the Family Security Index and factors in housing costs, food, childcare, medical costs, transportation, taxes and “other expenses.”
Additionally, the Basic Needs Coalition estimates that 40% of families in the Austin-San Marcos corridor live below the Family Security Index, which is accepted as a more accurate indicator of necessary living wage, whereas the federal government’s poverty level measures income only. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 13.8% of Hays County residents live at or below the federal poverty level.
According to Tessaro, the Hays Country Area Food Bank serves an average of 2,730 families each month, some twice a week. And while San Marcos and its surrounding communities may not be immediately feeling the sting of wheat, rice and soy shortages on the global scale, she said rice and beans in one-to-two-pound packages is a dietary staple the food bank always needs more of. But what the food bank most lacks proteins: “salmon, tuna, peanut butter, chili.”
In 2007, the Hays Country Area Food Bank provided $300,000 of food to churches, local shelters, schools, home health agencies and other social service agencies at no charge. An additional $550,000 of food went directly to senior citizens living on a fixed income, working families with children, the sick and disabled, among others.
Tessaro encouraged community members to help out in any manner they can afford: “We always need food, money and volunteer time.”
Hays county residents who need assistance from the Hays County Area Food Bank can call (512) 392-8300, or they can visit the food bank website at www.haysfoodbank.org.
By KELLY MERKS