November 20th, 2009 at 2:07 pm
WACO – Federal, state and local leaders in the fight against hunger gathered Nov. 19 for the Baylor University Hunger Summit to begin a discussion that they hope will lead to actions to end food insecurity in Texas by 2015.
By bringing together roughly 250 government officials, clergy and lay leaders, organizers hoped to break down the “silos” in the battle against hunger. If individuals on different levels can cooperate with each other, every Texan can have enough to eat in five years, said Jeremy Everett, one of the event’s coordinators and director of the Texas Hunger Initiative, a partnership between the Baylor School of Social Work and the Christian Life Commission of Texas Baptists.
“Basically what we’ve noticed over the course of time at the Texas Hunger Initiative is that these federal groups, the state groups and often these community-based groups work as silos and they don’t work together,” he said. “It’s our belief that if we’re going to work toward food security in Texas – that we define as three healthy meals a day, seven days a week – we’re going to have to all do it together.”
To bring people together beyond the hunger summit, the Texas Hunger Initiative is looking to launch two initiatives statewide.
First organizers are looking to create a food policy round table of state and federal leaders to assess what resources are available and coordinate efforts to make those resources available locally. The first meeting of the round table is scheduled for Jan. 20 in Austin.
The second initiative is an effort to create food planning associations in each of the state’s 254 counties. These hunger coalitions will bring together pastors, lay leaders, mayors and government officials to plan ways to provide people in need better access to healthy meals.
The Texas Hunger Initiative is part of Texas Hope 2010, an initiative of Texas Baptists to pray for others, care for those in need and share the gospel with every person by Easter 2010. The care portion of the effort focuses on feeding hungry people. The hunger initiative recently was selected to receive six $10,000 Texas Hope Care Grants through the Texas Baptist Offering for World Hunger.
The grants will be used to help start and expand summer feeding programs in at least six cities, the first priority of the hunger initiative. Texas has the highest percentage of hungry children in the nation at 22 percent. About 2.5 million children are on the free lunch program in Texas schools. Of those students, 2 million of them are not enrolled in summer feeding programs, leaving them looking for food daily.
Max Finberg, director of faith-based and neighborhood partnership for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said Texas has much to be proud of, but these statistics are not one of them.
“One of the things you can’t be proud of is that you’re the 2nd hungriest state in the nation,” he said.
The recent economic swoon is exacerbating the problem, said Todd Staples, Texas commissioner of agriculture. Each person at the summit indicated they knew someone who had lost their job, putting a strain on a person or family’s financial situation.
“No American wants to be hungry,” he said. “No American seeks to be hungry. And no American needs to be hungry.”
Texans would do something about the issue if they had a personal connection to the problem and a clear plan to follow, said Camille Miller, president of Texas Health Institute.
“We’ve got to be committed,” she said. “We’ve got to stay with this.”
Leaders said that food insecurity could drop dramatically across the state if people would take advantage of the available federal resources. Harris County residents, which include Houstonians, alone leave $203 million on the table that could be used to provide food for their families simply because they do not sign up. In Bexar County, which includes San Antonio, residents do not use $47.1 million they are eligible for.
“We have untapped resources that can have an immediate impact,” Staples said.
Summit leaders repeatedly voiced optimism that hunger could be significantly decreased. They noted that political leaders from the highest levels to the lowest seem to be intent on attacking the issue. Churches are stepping up to the challenge as well.
Suzii Paynter, director of the Christian Life Commission of Texas Baptists, said God appears to be moving in the lives of people in such a way where a dramatic effort can take place to aid people in need.
The Texas Hope 2010 initiative has further brought the hunger issue to the forefront of Texas Baptists’ minds. She described the this point in history as being like the second time Jesus laid His hands on the blind man in Mark 8. Upon the first touch, the man said he saw people, but they were unclear. Jesus touched the man’s eyes again, clearing his vision completely.
“We’ve heard about hunger,” she said. “We’ve read about it in Scripture. Now we’re being touched a second time and can do something about it as a sign of the kingdom of God. If the church steps up and starts feeding hungry children, it will be a sign of God’s work.”
Christ’s command to His followers to feed the hungry applies to each of them, Paynter said. All of them have a role to play in fighting hunger. A free practical handbook on how to start a summer feeding program is available from the web site of Texas Impact, an interfaith non-profit group based in Austin. That site is www.texasimpact.org.
“What church doesn’t have a kitchen?” she said. “What church can’t make sandwiches? It’s a universal call.”
For more information on summer feeding programs, call the Christian Life Commission at 888-244-9400.