How hungry is your neighborhood?

fruits-at-farmers-market

Individuals who suffer from food insecurity lack reliable access to nutritious and affordable food like fruits and vegetables.

Last week, I shared information about the health effects food insecurity has on children.

Now that we have an idea of why we need to work to fix the issue, I thought we could look at just how prevalent poverty and hunger are in our state.

Feeding Texas, the state food bank network which is a part of Feeding America, has created a map based on census data that shows levels of poverty and food insecurity throughout the state.

The Houston Food Bank has gone a bit further, mapping out the zip codes in the Houston metro area and providing information for each that looks like this:

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The Houston Food Bank has created an interactive map showing food insecurity data in 2016 for each of the zip codes in the Houston area. Boxes like this provide metrics for each zip code. Source: Houston Food Bank

The information on each map provides a clear picture of just how many Texans suffer from hunger and how the numbers vary (sometimes significantly) even between neighboring areas.

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Hunger and their health: New study shows how food insecurity affects children of all ages

Chopped fresh carrots and broccoli

When I was a reporter at the Amarillo Globe-News, I had a few opportunities to interview Dyron Howell, the founder of Snack Pak 4 Kids. The program provides weekend bags of food to school children throughout the Texas Panhandle who may otherwise go without eating during the days they’re away from school.

One of the things I always remember from our conversations is the way hunger affects a child’s physical and mental health, and his or her ability to concentrate and learn. For a child who is chronically hungry, hunger becomes the leading force and cause of all he or she does.

Science Daily gives a decent breakdown of the research completed by the Boston University School of Medicine and Boston Medical Center, where researchers studied the associations between food insecurity and how children may adversely develop when it comes to academic performance, social behaviors and mental health.

The information shows that hunger doesn’t just affect a child’s stomach – it spills over into all aspects of a child’s life.

Why Food Insecurity?

I know what it means to be food-insecure (a phrase that means not having a reliable source of food). As a child in a single-parent household, I remember my mom going without so that her children could eat. I remember knowing that I should ask before grabbing a snack, because certain items were meant for certain meals and eating them would mean our family going without until payday (and maybe longer).

Two of my favorite photos from the first Snack Paks 4 Kids corn distribution event.

Two of my favorite photos from the first Snack Paks 4 Kids corn distribution event.

I know that my family and many others wouldn’t have survived without organizations like my church, which had a food pantry, or the Amarillo College Food Pantry, the High Plains Food Bank, Snack Pak 4 Kids, and a handful of others. We also depended on government-funded initiatives like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Women, Infants, and Children and the National School Lunch Program.

But I also know that for every person who each of these organizations and programs helped, there are still many more who are trying to survive in food-insecure homes.

I’m a senior journalism student at Texas Tech University. This spring, I get to choose one topic to focus on for the entire semester. I’ve chosen food insecurity.

I want to look into the reasons why more than 12 percent of American families still suffer from food insecurity. I want to look at the ways communities are tackling the problem and find out how, as a country, we’ve managed to bring the average down from close to 15 percent, but there are still pockets where it’s more than 20 percent and why, according to the most recent data available, it’s almost 50 percent among college students. I want to find and share the stories of the people who are helping, the people who are surviving and the obstacles we still face as a country.

I’ll share stories, reports, data and other things I find on this page. One of the first I’ve come across is an op-ed from a university president in California. It has lots of good information about the situation among his state’s college students.

At the end of the semester, I hope to also publish the work I’ve completed about our local issues. Here’s hoping my work will make a difference, too.