In the 16 years Jan Pruitt has been the CEO of the North Texas Food Bank, food distribution has grown 300% and the "ReThink Hunger" program has succeeded in providing more nutritious meals to food-insecure families across North Texas. Recently I spoke with Pruitt about the food bank's $7 million goal, leadership and what it takes to provide 130,000 nutritious meals a day.
What are some of the biggest misconceptions about people who need help putting food on the table? That they're takers. That they're just coming and taking help wherever they can get it. But the truth is that the majority of people that go to a food pantry have at least one job and in many cases more than one job.
Another growing segment that we see are senior citizens on a fixed income.
Also, people think we give most of our food to the homeless - only about nine percent of our food goes to the homeless population. 91 percent goes to families and seniors.
Do needs change during the holidays for hunger-insecure families? I think what's interesting is that most people think of hunger during the holidays because it's a season of giving. But, our highest need time is during the summer months when kids are out of school.
During the holiday days what agencies are trying to do is provide that special meal, like an actual holiday meal. The NTFB purchases 8 tractor-trailer loads of turkeys. We also do special turkey drives, like the kids in Coppell and Highland Park both did turkey drives. So, it's not that the numbers go up so much, it's that the quality of the food changes.[jump]
During the summer break, the NTFB provides extra food for kids, does the same go for the winter holiday break? We double up on the food for kids backpack program any time there's a holiday. But, most of the time the kids are being fed through the pantry programs during the holidays. You have to remember that during the holidays food insecure families have to put three meals on the table at a time they've been struggling just to put one meal on the table. It really stretches their budget.
In addition to trying to buy gifts during the holidays... That is also a big factor. The good news is that we're having a really moderate winter, utility costs aren't as high and people aren't missing work because of bad weather, which can be a really big factor. So, that's actually really good news right now.
What are some of the greatest misconceptions about the North Texas Food Bank? The thing people most often don't understand is that we're not an actual food pantry. People think we give food out of our front door, but we don't. We are actually a food distribution company wrapped in an altruistic skin. We're a food distribution center for the non-profit sector.
Also, people don't realize we have almost 175,000 square feet of space for refrigerated and dry food storage.
Do you cook any meals at the NTFB? We have a 3,000 square foot kitchen and the labor force is provided by the women at the Dawson State Jail, who produce 10,000 meals a week, which is the equivalent of a Stouffer's size meal. So, if a family is going into a pantry, they'll probably get a couple frozen casseroles in addition to cans of food.