When the U.S. Department of Agriculture released a report earlier this week that placed Texas second only to Mississippi when it comes to the swelling ranks of hungry residents, Jan Pruitt wasn't surprised. After all, the president and CEO of the North Texas Food Bank had just released her own data on the growing need of North Texas families as part of a major food drive heading into the holidays.
"I wasn't surprised based on what this last year has looked like for us," she tells Unfair Park, saying that not only have local agencies increased food distribution in response to greater need, but that more and more of the people struggling to buy food have only recently landed in dire straits. On average, Pruitt says, there's been a 36-percent rise in first-time visitors to local food pantries in recent months, and in Collin County, Frisco Family Services Center has seen a 56-percent rise in first-time clients. "We're averaging one million pounds of food out our doors each week, and with all this effort, we still know we're only meeting a portion of the demand."
Many of those seeking help at the food bank's network of more than 1,000 pantries are members of the working poor, Pruitt says, people who, despite having jobs, are unable to keep food on the table.
"They have the expenses of working -- transportation, clothing, etc. -- but they're not making enough money to pay bills, rent, and put food on the table," she says. "For a lot of families, food is their only discretionary budget item."
Also among the hungry are ill people facing steep medical bills, as well as others who were formerly well-employed. One NTFB client, Pruitt says, was a hospital administrator who ran out of savings several months after being laid off. He saw a news story about Minny's Food Pantry in Plano, sought help there, and now volunteers at the organization while drawing unemployment and looking for work.
Just nine percent of the NTFB's supplies go to the homeless, says Pruitt. "People need to know the face of the hungry is not the guy on the street holding up a sign."
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