Mississippi: Thousands more kids to get free school meals

An additional 17,000 Mississippi children will be able to eat free breakfast and lunch at school thanks to a new system that automatically identifies eligible students.

Completed last month by the Mississippi Department of Education, the system eliminates the need for parents to fill out applications. Instead, it automatically finds eligible students by matching school enrollment lists against the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, records.

More than 300,000 households in Mississippi – or roughly 22 percent of the population – receive SNAP benefits, which used to be known as food stamps, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“Direct certification is an important process to ensure that students who are eligible for benefits receive nutrition through USDA meal programs,” said Scott Clements, director of MDE’s Office of Child Nutrition, in a press release. “It directly benefits some of Mississippi’s most vulnerable children.”

Sixty-three percent of K-12 students already receive free meals at school in Mississippi, according to data from the National Center for Education Statistics. The new program would boost that rate to about 67 percent.

Read the full article here.

Texas Households on Food Stamps has Almost Tripled Since 2000

By Alexa Ura, From The Texas Tribune

The number of households in Texas receiving food stamps has almost tripled since 2000, according to figures released Tuesday by the U.S. Census Bureau.

In 2013, 1.3 million Texas households received aid from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP — up from 505,968 in 2000. The percentage of Texas households on food stamps increased from 6.9 percent in 2000 to 14 percent in 2013. Nationwide, 13.5 percent of households received food stamps in 2013.

Celia Cole, CEO of the Texas Food Bank Network, said the necessity for food stamps increased significantly during the 2008 economic recession, and the high number of recipients indicates that many poor Texans are still “struggling to make ends meet.”

“I think they’re facing a harder time recovering despite overall gains in the economy” in recent years, Cole said.

SNAP provides assistance to low-income people and families through Lone Star cards that can be used like credit cards at stores that accept food stamps. In Texas, a family of four must make less than $38,868 a year to qualify.

The census data includes SNAP participation rates among Texas households in which at least one individual received SNAP benefits in the last year. Texans’ participation in the program remained stable from 2012 to 2013.

Read the full article here. 

Sign the Petition to Save SNAP

Next week, Congress is poised to begin consideration of its FY2016 Budget Resolution – and SNAP (formerly food stamps) is being targeted for cuts.

We need your voice – and the voices of thousands of others – to say that Congress should support SNAP.

To help prevent SNAP cuts for hungry Texans, please sign this petition yourself, and share it with your friends before March 24th!

Click here to sign the petition 

After-school dinner program a success in Dallas

The kitchen at Highland Meadows Elementary School is a busy one these days. When all of the lunch shifts are completed, workers are busy chopping and cooking up additional meals for dozens of students.

They know some of the children will return to the cafeteria for dinner before heading home.

“Their lunch is so early in the day, by the time it’s 3 o’clock, they’re starving all over again,” explained Assistant Principal Annette Fields.

Fields says Highland Meadows is among Dallas Independent School District campuses now offering an after-school supper program.

“It’s been taking off like crazy,” Field said.

Ninety percent of the students in Dallas ISD are eligible for free or reduced-price meals. Educators say there are a lot of children across the district who go home hungry.

Like many school districts across the county, Dallas ISD decided to take advantage of a federal after-school meal program.

Dora Rivas, executive director of food and child nutrition the district, said she has watched the program grow from 37 schools to 136 schools over the past two years.

“The students — where we have the program — have found that … they are able to go through enrichment and tutorial programs and they get re-energized so they can make it through,” she said.


Read the rest, and see the television news segment, here.

Beyond Free Lunch: Schools Open Food Pantries For Hungry Families

John Still K-8 School, home of the Tigers, serves Meadowview, a picturesque name for a Sacramento, Calif., neighborhood blanketed in concrete and bare of trees.

There are 970 students on John Still’s campus, and every one of them qualifies for the free and reduced meal program, which provides breakfast, lunch and a supper snack.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 8.6 million children experienced food insecurity in 2013. When food gaps become chronic in these households, poor nutrition and stress can turn into long-term health consequences for adults and children.

More schools are stepping up to help these families. Feeding America, a network of U.S. food banks, says its School Pantry Program served more than 21 million meals to nearly 110,000 children nationwide in 2013 through a variety of models — including boxed meals, and sites where families choose items for their meals.

Amaya Weiss, the learning support specialist at John Still, runs the Youth and Family Resource Center, which houses a food pantry for students and their families.

The food pantry has “lots of Top Ramen, lots of soups, tomatoes,” Weiss says. “My families love pasta, because it’s easy to make. And sometimes the kids just come in here and say, ‘I’m still hungry, can I have something to eat?’ And then we give them that, too.”

Read the rest at Texas Public Radio:

2014 U.S. Conference of Mayors Survey on Hunger and Homelessness

Seventy-one percent of cities included in this year’s U.S. Conference of Mayors “Survey on Hunger and Homelessness” reported an increase in requests for emergency food assistance, with a number of cities citing recent benefit cuts contributing to this increased demand.

Cities are at the forefront of those recognizing the value of government nutrition programs. One-third of surveyed cities called for SNAP benefits to be increased. Two cities- St. Paul, MN and Trenton, NJ- specifically cited “lack of SNAP benefits” as a main cause of hunger. And when asked about some of the biggest challenges to addressing hunger, a number of cities said their emergency food providers were unable to keep with the growing need caused by cuts to SNAP and other benefit programs.Read the full report here.

DCHS & The Family Garden Project in the Dallas Morning News

Mesquite-based Sharing Life Community Outreach provides gardens for those in need

By Hannah Declerk

Norma Vann may be a great-grandmother, but that hasn’t stopped her from continuing to grow a family — only this time it is in her backyard.

Vann, 64, is providing for a household of eight and participated in the family garden initiative hosted in part by Sharing Life Community Outreach in Mesquite.

Sharing Life volunteers planted a container garden in Vann’s backyard with lettuce, tomatoes, cabbage, green beans, spinach, cilantro, radish, cucumbers and collard greens. They used a product known as GardenSoxx, a mesh container.

“It is such a deal-breaker between fresh vegetables and canned vegetables,” Vann said.

Executive Director Teresa Jackson said the program, like others provided through Sharing Life, focuses on the needs of clients and empowers them to become an agent of change for their futures.

Sharing Life is one of 25 agencies supported by The Dallas Morning News Charities this year. The nonprofit provides short-term financial assistance, food, clothing, school supplies, ESL classes and job skills training for those in far East Dallas ZIP codes that meet the 2014-15 Federal Poverty Guidelines.

“The concept is just incredible. Instead of handing a man a fish, you are teaching them to fish. And they are being able to grow their own food,” said Wendy Hardeman, Sharing Life volunteer manager.

Jackson said she had first learned of the initiative this past spring from a friend at the Dallas Baptist Association.

The Family Garden Initiative began in 2010 as a partnership between Church of the Open Door and Filtrexx Foundation, both in Lorain County, Ohio. Filtrexx International manufactures the GardenSoxx. The purpose is to work with low-income communities.

This is the first time providing GardenSoxx through the initiative has been introduced this far south in the Dallas area, Jackson said.

Jackson said she works closely with the Dallas Baptist Association through the Dallas Coalition for Hunger Solutions.

In early spring, the coalition developed the Hunger Solutions for the Faith Community Guide, which includes six solutions to address hunger. One of the six hunger solutions highlighted is the Family Garden Initiative Project.

Read the full article here

Healthy Eating Eluding Many with Disabilities

“People with disabilities are falling far short when it comes to consuming recommended levels of vitamins and other nutrients, researchers say.

Most Americans do not adhere to daily nutrition recommendations, but a new study finds that those with disabilities are fairing below average.

Researchers looked at data on nearly 12,000 people — including over 4,200 with various disabilities — who participated in the government’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys, which inquire about food and supplement intake.

They found that most U.S. adults eat too much saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium and do not take in recommended levels of vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin D, calcium and iron.

People with disabilities were even less likely to follow guidelines on saturated fat, fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium and potassium, according to findings published in the Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics.

What’s more, those with the most severe disabilities — whether physical or mental — were least likely to report good nutritional habits, the study found.”

To read the entire article, visit:

FRAC and AARP Foundation announce new tools to help fight hunger among seniors

FRAC and AARP Foundation are taking a step forward in preventing food insecurity by publishing a digital toolkit that provides best practices for connecting older adults to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).  Both organizations recognize how important SNAP is to preventing food insecurity and promoting economic stability and health for vulnerable households. However, nearly three of five low-income seniors who are eligible for SNAP food assistance miss out on this valuable help to purchase food.

The toolkit, “Combating Food Insecurity: Tools for Helping Older Americans Access SNAP,” offers practical tips and examples to help organizations of all sizes address food insecurity in all types of communities. The goal is to increase senior SNAP participation.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provides monthly benefits to help low-income individuals afford healthier food. In an average month in 2012 – the most recent data available – more than 4 million Americans age 60 or older participated in SNAP, with an average monthly benefit of $119 for those living alone. With at least 1 in 11 seniors (aged 65 or older) struggling against hunger, increasing access to SNAP can make a huge difference for millions of households with limited resources.

“SNAP is proven to fight hunger and improve health, but eligible older Americans are significantly less likely to participate in the program than members of other demographic groups,” said FRAC President Jim Weill. “Many factors contribute to this low participation rate, from barriers related to mobility, unfamiliarity with technology, and concern about stigma, to widespread myths about how the program works and who can qualify. This toolkit from FRAC and AARP Foundation aims to erase these misconceptions, and provide organizations with the tools they need to end senior hunger.”

“Nearly 9 million people age 50+ are threatened by hunger every day,” said AARP Foundation President Lisa Marsh Ryerson. “We are thrilled to be a part of the new toolkit that extends SNAP benefits to those eligible, in an easy-to-use digital format. Not only does SNAP help low-income people eat healthier, more nutritious food, SNAP also benefits the economy. Every $5 in new SNAP benefits generates $9 – nearly twice as much – in total economic activity in the community.”

Closing the participation gap is incredibly important for the fight against hunger, but it also would go a long way to improving seniors’ health and well-being. Food-insecure seniors are 2.33 times more likely to report fair or poor health status. Hunger increases disability, decreases resistance to infection, and extends hospital stays.  Moreover, many medications need to be taken with food to ensure their effectiveness. Too many seniors skip meals in order to purchase medication, only to see the “take with food” label on the prescription bottle. Improving access to SNAP would give seniors the resources they need for healthier lives.

The toolkit aims to do just that. It walks through the basics of SNAP, and then provides practical resources to help organizations craft successful programs of education, outreach, and application assistance. It includes real examples of collateral and messages that have worked in communities across the nation, and offers strategies on how to measure success.

“Combating Food Insecurity: Tools for Helping Older Americans Access SNAP” is one more step forward in preventing food insecurity and promoting economic stability and health for vulnerable older adults, and another step in the AARP Foundation and FRAC joint effort to provide real solutions for real problems.

The toolkit is available online.