By Praveen Sathianathan Staff Writer

N. Texas agency seeks donations to offset 25% jump in demand

Jan Pruitt

Officials with the North Texas Food Bank recently announced that, due to the economic downturn, the agency is facing a budget shortfall of $156,000.

"This shortfall means less food will be available for distribution, further impacting families and children at a time when North Texans need us most," said Jan Pruitt, NTFB chief executive officer.

Pruitt estimates that the budget shortfall is equal to funding the distribution of 780,000 meals this holiday season.

"While many charities are facing the blow of this recession, it is especially significant to the food bank, as people facing layoffs, home foreclosure and economic uncertainty are relying on us to keep from going hungry this season," Pruitt said.

She said the food bank is also asking the community’s help to help raise more than $1 million and 2.6 million pounds of food in December to meet current goals.

According to Amanda O’Neal, a spokeswoman for NTFB, the food bank currently serves 260 member agencies in 13 Texas counties and provides food to 917 food and educational programs.

"Demand from our member agencies is up 25 to 35 percent in recent months, compared to the 5 to 10 percent we usually see," O’Neal said.

Rafael McDonnell, a spokesman for the Resource Center of Dallas, said there were 2,820 visits to RCD’s food pantry in October of this year, up from 2,576 last year.

"Although, traditionally, we see an increase in the number of visits at this time of the year, October went completely off the charts," McDonnell said. "We are definitely hearing from our clients that the economic conditions are making it harder for them to survive."

According to a study on emergency food assistance released Dec. 18, food banks nationally are reporting a 30 percent increase in the number of requests for food.

The study by Chicago-based Feeding America, which was based on the responses of 160 of the 205 food bank members, assessed the effects of the economic downturn on low-income households.

More than 90 percent of the food banks respondents cited high food prices and unemployment as the two primary reasons for emergency food assistance. More than 60 percent cited fuel and 52 percent cited food stamps benefit inadequacies.

Vicki Escarra, president and CEO of Feeding America, said, "We are in a national crisis. We have some food banks reporting as high as 65 percent increase in need.

"The economy is affecting all Americans, but it is low-income Americans who are suffering the most," Escarra said. "Skyrocketing unemployment rates, increasing food costs, high fuel prices for the majority of this year have put an unprecedented level of need on our food banks.

"Unemployment projections indicate that the situation is likely to get worse in the near future. Low-income Americans need an increase in food stamps and our network needs more food from the federal government to ensure that we can keep feeding the millions of people turning to us for help," she said.

The organization is asking the federal government to pass economic recovery legislation to help those in need.

According to Colleen Brinkmann, chief marketing officer for NTFB, the economic crisis has caused the face of hunger to change. It is no longer just the homeless man on the street corner going without food.

"It could be someone walking past you in the shopping center, or the child sitting next to your child at school or even could be the person sitting next to you at work," she said.

"Unlike third world countries where hunger is very visible, hunger in this country is invisible," she said. "Who wants to admit they can’t feed their family? There are people in our community who have decided to pay bills and not buy food who are telling their children to wait until they go to school tomorrow to eat."

According to statistics from the NTFB, of the more than half a million people who go hungry every day, 41 percent are children.

"It is typically during the summer months when school is closed when the NTFB tends to see the most demand for food," she said. "However since the economy is changing, there is a greater demand now."

And, Brinkmann added, hunger is not just a Dallas problem: "This is happening in suburbs all across the city."

To meet that growing need, NTFB is asking for more assistance from the community.

"People are giving, but the demand is so great that we need to keep the amount of donations high so we are able to serve everyone," O’Neal said. "We are trying not to fall behind, so the effects are not felt throughout the year."

She said last year, 63 percent of the food bank’s supply was from donations, 14 percent of it was purchased and 23 percent was from the USDA.

O’Neal said the NTFB was very effective in stretching each dollar to provide for the community: "Out of every dollar donated, 97 cents goes directly to hunger-relief programs."

Each month, agency pantries distribute food to more than 50,000 families and on-site meal programs serve 435,000 meals or snacks.

In July, the NTFB created "Close the Gap," its three-year initiative to provide 50 million meals to the community and thus narrow the food gap. Last year the NTFB distributed more than 26 million meals, which is more than any food bank in the state.  

To donate food, people can give directly to their neighborhood food pantry or give directly at the NTFB.  Monetary donations can be given on the NTFB Web site at

E-mail [email protected]

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 26, 2008.

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