State Senator, District 6 | Posted: Monday, December 23, 2013 12:24 pm
Recently, I have been inspired by Pope Francis' strong stance against economic inequality and his urging to further support the poor among us. Having read about Pope Francis' "One Human Family, Food For All" campaign, I am moved to pray and act to end hunger, especially during this holiday season.
The Pope's message resonates closely with the values I learned growing up poor in South Texas and having been a recipient of the old commodity food program. Despite our family's economic hardships, my parents instilled the value of generosity in me and my nine siblings. I give thanks to my parents for teaching us that everyone has something to give, regardless of their circumstances and that everyone should be treated with dignity and respect.
During this holiday season, as we gather with our families and friends to exchange gifts, express gratitude, and celebrate another year, let us reflect on the Pope's message of compassion and generosity for those who are unnecessarily hungry in this season of giving. Consider adding generosity for those in need to your list of 2014 New Year's resolutions.
In Harris County, there are 706,000 residents (18%) who are food insecure. This means that there was a time in the previous year when they had difficulty meeting their food needs. Some of these Harris County residents are eligible for federal and state food programs like SNAP (food stamps), WIC (Women, Infants & Children’s program) , and free school lunches, but estimates show that only about 55% of those who are eligible actually access these programs. Additionally, many with food insecurity simply do not meet the low income qualifications of these programs.
So what can we do to help our neighbors in Harris County? Here are some ideas:
Encourage your faith-based and non-faith based organizations to engage in the fight against hunger by offering meals at their location, especially during the summer and after school when many children cannot access free school meals.
Help our food banks. Food banks are a critical component to filling the gap in food insecurity among our neighbors. Your time, your voice, and your money are invaluable resources in helping food banks further their mission. Also, volunteer at your local food bank and pantry. Make it part of your New Year's resolution to volunteer in 2014.
Use your voice to educate and encourage your neighbors, friends and family members to contribute to a food bank, but also encourage federal legislators to preserve and strengthen the SNAP program and other federal nutrition programs, which are currently under consideration in the Farm Bill to be passed after the New Year. I will certainly use my voice to encourage my fellow State legislators to expand state food programs.
Food banks can also use your dollars to buy food at wholesale prices. This should not discourage you from donating non-perishable food items, but dollars can be leveraged to feed more families. I applaud Mayor Annise Parker and the Houston Inaugural Organizing Committee for organizing an event at the Houston Food Bank on January 2nd, where 100% of donations will go to the food bank.
Like the Pope says, let's "place ourselves at the service of the poor." Think of creative ways to truly make a difference next year.