East Texas Food Bank, T.L.L. Temple Foundation address food insecurity in deep East Texas

The T.L.L. Temple Foundation has awarded the East Texas Food Bank a 1.89 million dollar grant to launch the Deep East Texas Food Security Initiative on July 1. Over the next several years, the initiative will address four key focus areas:

  1. Partner Agency Development and Capacity Building
  2. Increased Fresh Produce Distribution
  3. Social Benefits Application Assistance
  4. Development of Deep East Texas Resource Center (including purchasing 105 Lofton St., Lufkin, TX.)

The East Texas Food Bank exists to fight hunger and feed hope in East Texas.  ETFB distributes food to a network of more than 200 partner agencies and feeding programs throughout 26 East Texas counties, including 11 counties served by the T.L.L. Temple Foundation, which are Anderson, Angelina, Bowie, Cass, Cherokee, Houston, Nacogdoches, Panola, Rusk, San Augustine and Shelby.

“The aim of this initiative is primarily to increase support for rural areas in 11 counties we share with ETFB.  Lufkin is blessed to have a number of organizations focused on food insecurity.  Through the Deep East Texas Resource Center, the foundation will be able to enhance our support for organizations serving rural people and rural places,” said T.L.L. Temple Foundation President and CEO Wynn Rosser. “ETFB is a critical resource for our region, and the foundation is excited to work with Dennis and his team in this new way.”

Last fiscal year, the East Texas Food Bank provided more than 21.3 million meals throughout its service area, including approximately 8.4 million meals in the 11-county focus area for this initiative.

In those 11 counties, nearly 20 percent of residents are at risk of hunger, including approximately 26 percent of children.

“Due to the pandemic, we’re expecting the food insecurity rate to grow even further,” said East Texas Food Bank Chief Executive Officer Dennis Cullinane“According to projections from Feeding America, we’re anticipating about one in four East Texans, including one in three children, to be at risk of hunger. We are committed to increasing our distribution and services to meet this need.”

The initiative will also work to address major public health problems related to food insecurity. Family members in food insecure households are more likely to report poorer health and depressive symptoms and have higher risks for chronic diseases like obesity, hypertension and diabetes.

According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, conditions related to heart disease are the leading cause of death in northeast Texas. Additionally, in counties served by the T.L.L. Temple Foundation, the percentages of adults diagnosed with diabetes range from nine to 21 percent.

The initiative will address these health issues by increasing access to healthy, nutritious food and fresh produce items. The grant funding from the Temple Foundation will help ETFB increase produce distribution over the next two years – providing funding for 600,000 pounds of fresh produce in fiscal year 2021 and 1.2 million pounds in fiscal year 2022.

The initiative will also expand ETFB’s Benefits Assistance Program in deep East Texas. Currently, only one of 56 partner agencies in the 11 shared counties offer the program. In conjunction with food distributions, ETFB partner agencies will help clients sign up for programs such as SNAP, WIC, Medicaid and more.

Lastly, the grant will fund the Deep East Texas Resource Center at 105 Lofton St., Lufkin, TX. The new-multi service branch will expand and increase the accessibility of food assistance and provide wrap-around services to community members in need.

The Resource Center is intended to augment the good work done by Lufkin’s current food pantries and will include a Healthy Pantry Program, host nutrition education classes, serve as a fresh produce redistribution center, provide on-site benefits assistance and provide access to other services such as Texas Workforce Commission and WIC.

One of the key elements of the initiative and purposes of the Resource Center is to increase the availability of fresh produce in the 11 rural counties, which are a focus of this initiative.

“Unfortunately, many East Texans have little or no access to fresh produce,” Cullinane said. “Families on a tight food budget are forced to stretch their food dollars and often buy cheap, high-calorie foods that ward off hunger but have limited nutritional value.”