One in six Johnson County residents, about 16.6 percent, is struggling with hunger and more than 40 percent of this food-insecure population does not qualify for government nutrition assistance programs and may have to relay on private charities, according to the study “Map the Meal Gap,” released by Feeding America, a national hunger-relief organization, and the Tarrant Area Food Bank, which serves Johnson County and 12 other North Texas counties.
Previously, food insecurity data was only available at the state and national level in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s annual report, “Household Food Security in the United States.” This meant that Feeding America and its member food banks had to use poverty as the best indicator of food insecurity on the local level.
Food insecurity, defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is the lack of access, at times, to enough nutritious food for an active, healthy life for all family members. Any degree of food insecurity can lead to malnutrition and chronic hunger, which jeopardize a person’s health, and, in the case of the seriously ill or the very young or very old, can even threaten one’s life.
The study found that in Johnson County half of the county’s food-insecure residents do qualify, based on income, for SNAP, free and reduced-cost school meals and other government nutrition programs, all of which bring dollars into the community in the form of purchases at grocery stores, hiring of staff to administer the programs and other activities.
The study also showed that 46 percent of the food-insecure residents, because of higher income, do not qualify for government nutrition programs, leaving those families to rely on local hunger-relief charities.
An additional 9 percent who qualify for some government nutrition assistance, do not qualify for SNAP or free and reduced-cost school meals.
The study also found that because of lack of resources, Johnson County food insecure residents went without an estimated 4.1 million meals during one year.
“What is most revealing about the ‘Map the Meal Gap’ study is that a relatively large percentage of people across the nation and in our service region who are food insecure have household incomes that make them ineligible for nutrition assistance programs such as SNAP and free and reduced-cost school meals,” said Bo Soderbergh, Tarrant Area Food Bank executive director. “This illustrates that food insecurity occurs even among those who are not living in poverty.”
Officials at the Tarrant Area Food Bank said they provide food for its BackPacks for Kids program at Grandview Elementary School in Grandview and food for 21 charities in:
• Alvarado — Helping Hands, New Life Ministries, Seventh-Day Adventist Church
• Burleson — First Baptist Church, Lighthouse Food Pantry, Ministerial Alliance/Harvest House
• Cleburne — Crossroads Church/Heart 2 Heart, East Cleburne Community Center, Family Crisis Center, Field Street Baptist Church, House of Prayer, Johnson County Christian Lodge, Operation Blessing, Salvation Army, St. Mark United Methodist Church, Teen Life Challenge of Johnson County and West Hill Church of Christ
• Joshua — Crossroad Fellowship Seventh-Day Adventist Church Food Mission
• Lillian — First Baptist Church
• Venus — Real Life Connection Church