For most, an empty refrigerator or pantry means a trip to the grocery store, but that isn’t necessarily an option for everyone. A 2017 U.S. Department of Agriculture report showed more than 14 percent of Texans are “food insecure” at any given time. That means that at some point, a large number of our neighbors do not have ready access to food or the money to buy food, and they may not know where their next nutritious meal will come from.
Using that statistic, we can estimate that more than 7,000 Trinity Valley Electric Cooperative members may be living in food insecurity, along with many more in the towns that dot the TVEC service territory.
Thankfully there are organizations throughout the area that have risen to the challenge of helping fill one of the most basic human needs, and TVEC member donations through Operation Round Up™ have helped stock the shelves since the program’s inception in 2013.
The Henderson County Food Pantry, located in Athens, received its fifth TVEC Charitable Foundation grant in 2017. Linda Horton, the food pantry’s president, said that, as a TVEC member herself, it is encouraging to see how the program works as both a donor and grant recipient.
“Every little bit, plus everyone else’s little bit, it all adds up and then you are talking about real money,” Horton said. “And it isn’t how much you give, but if you have that spirit in you to give, it encourage others to give also.”
HCFP acts as an emergency food aid resource, giving to anyone in need once every three months. Clients are interviewed, and the amount of aid is determined by the number of people in the household.
“We are covering people to get them by—it is really to help people through a rough time,” Horton said. “It is portioned to the size of the family, and we have been able to start adding some things like baby formula, dish soap and toilet paper when those things are donated.”
With 23 years of experience at the food pantry, Horton noted that every situation is different, and the people who need help may not be who you might expect.
“You never know what someone’s situation is by looking, you can’t judge it that way,” she said. “When someone loses a job or has some other problem, they may have nice clothes or a nice car. That doesn’t necessarily mean they are able to buy food that day.”
Horton also has seen a shift toward more elderly clients, many of whom have stepped up to raise grandchildren.
There are safeguards in place to help ensure that the resources go to those who need them most. Clients are registered and identities are checked. Some situations require the food pantry to turn down requests, like when three teenagers showed up after running away from home.
“We’ve caught people doing things to take advantage, and we’ve learned through the years, but I guess in any situation you run into that,” Horton said. “We are not a religious organization, we are independent, but it think we are here because Jesus said ‘Feed my sheep.’ If you meet me at church, the first thing I will do is ask if you want to sing in the choir. The second thing will be if you would want to volunteer at the food pantry.”