In the ongoing battle against hunger, the North Texas Food Bank continues to dialogue, educate and assist local food pantries and other nonprofits on hand at the Ellis County Hunger Summit, held Tuesday at the Waxahachie Civic Center.

NTFB president/CEO and Ennis native Jan Pruitt, who has been associated with the organization since the early 1980s, addressed the needs of the hungry of Ellis County to an audience that included representatives from Manna House, Salvation Army, Senior Citizens Food Pantry in Midlothian, Meals-on-Wheels, Baptist General Convention of Texas, Waxahachie Rotary Club and members of the Glenn Heights and Midlothian police departments and the Ellis County Sheriff’s Office.

In her three presentations to the group, Pruitt addressed the universal condition of hunger and its impact on Ellis County – and she gave a strategic plan for the future.

“Today’s meeting is not about the North Texas Food Bank but it’s about Ellis County – how can we help you to meet needs of hunger in your communities?” asked Pruitt. “When you think of hunger, you think of people on the streets, the homeless, but they only make up about 9 percent of the people we serve.”

Pruitt told the group her agency primarily feeds senior citizens, children and families in a 13-county area and of the 35,000 recipients in Ellis County, 12,000 are children and 6,000 are senior citizens.

“The population in Ellis County is 148,186 – and out of that population 17.8 percent of the population are what we call food insecure, which translates into 26,363 people,” she said. “That’s a USDA term for people that don’t know where their next meal is coming from.”

Lt. Missy Romack of the Waxahachie Salvation Army said her agency has seen a 62 percent increase in food distribution over the past year – and feeding children in the Boys and Girls Club has doubled.

“We are making our dollars stretch as far as we can – but we don’t let anyone leave our facilities without food,” she said, saying that many families have come in who have never asked for help before – middle-class families that have lost their income. “We live by the motto that ‘behind every starving stomach there is a starving soul’ and we continue to feed people every day. We’re proud to be a part of the North Texas Food Bank,” Romack said.

Vickie Massey, who directs the Senior Citizens Center Food Pantry in Midlothian said her organization feeds 329 senior citizens every Thursday and Friday.

“Of that 329 people, there are 1,038 other people that live with them,” she said. “During the ice storm, we had no idea anyone would come out for a meal, but 70 people showed up. I have a couple in their mid-80s that are always there to help me – and I tell you, if it wasn’t for the North Texas Food Bank we really couldn’t exist.”

Pruitt noted several initiatives whereby her organization can acquire food, including “Retail Store Pickup.”

“We have 60 Walmart stores and 58 Kroger stores in our service area and from them we get bins full of frozen meat,” she said, saying that more than 6 billion pounds of produce each year is surplus and could be made available to food banks.

Noting that the community garden movement has gained momentum over the past few years, Ellis County Sheriff Johnny Brown said he intended to incorporate the program into his agency.

“The sheriff’s office is planning to raise produce on the county farm and it will be worked by inmates,” Brown said. “It will be distributed to the local children’s homes.”

Pruitt also touched on other food bank initiatives, including the backpack program at school, whereby students are identified by teachers as being in need and are given a backpack of food to take home.

She also highlighted the fact only about 40 percent of the eligible population for food stamps signs up for them.

The North Texas Food Bank also sponsors a training program for food pantries, giving instruction in accounting, marketing and management; the program is under the auspices of El Centro College in Dallas.

Challenges widespread

Pruitt said challenges await not only the North Texas Food Bank, but every entity dedicated to fighting hunger, saying in part, “There is no sign to show that child poverty will experience a turndown in the next 10 years.”

Across a 13-county area, the NTFB provides meals to 12,381 children who are 17 years old and below. There were 5,885 senior citizens that were recipients of NTFB assistance through its agencies, with Ellis County member agencies receiving 1,004,803 pounds of food from NTFB last year.

Some future initiatives include:

• Food Stamp outreach – encouraging people who are eligible for food stamps to join the program; and

• helping agencies to expand their capacities to handle more food and enter into a food distribution system, delivering boxes of food to neighborhoods.

Out of the costs incurred by the NTFB in feeding the hungry, only about 6-7 percent is spent in transportation of the food.

A barbecue lunch catered by Ellis County Barbecue of Midlothian was provided by the NTFB to the summit attendees.

For more information, visit the North Texas Food Bank at www.ntfb.org or call 214-269-0695. E-mail Isaac Burren, program services manager, at isaac@ntfb.org, or Kristin Bowman, communications and public affairs coordinator, at kristinb@ntfb.org. 

Contact Paul at paul.gauntt@wninews.com or 469-517-1450.