COVID, supply chain problems, winter storm Uri all pushed food banks to become more resilient

This post was originally published on The Dallas Morning News

Food banks have always grappled with supply chain problems.

We will never forget that just over a year ago millions of Texans suffered from the winter ice storm that covered the state, causing many to lose electricity, hunt for water and sustain damage to their homes.

The unprecedented weather event created a long lasting and impactful barrier, especially for families already struggling to find enough food due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and now needing to replenish perishable food lost in the power outages.

As people who wake up each day working to end hunger in our state, we know that a powerful storm or a lost job can quickly throw families into chaos. Our 21 food banks across Texas are always there to help, rain, snow or shine.

One year after the worst storm in a century knocked out electricity and water to most of Texas, we can clearly appreciate the role that food banks played. We are grateful for the outpouring of support from our donors and the leadership of our elected officials; we couldn’t have fed our communities without them.

Here in the Dallas area, the North Texas Food Bank doubled up on mobile distributions and helped neighbors access over four million meals and connect with resources to get the help they needed.

For thousands of Texans, food banks were the only source of food. When restaurants, grocery stores and food pantries were closed or empty, our food banks were able to supply our communities with food. From hurricanes to recessions, we have decades of experience working through supply chain challenges and getting resources where they need to go.

People from across the country donated to the food bank network during the winter storm, powering our efforts to feed our neighbors. Famous donors like Kendra Scott, Chip and Joanna Gaines, Elon Musk and others were able to make large gifts, while over 20,000 regular people sent donations to help their neighbors in need.

Even the smallest donation goes a long way. The North Texas Food Bank can provide three meals for every dollar donated by purchasing food and supplies in bulk and using our networks to distribute food efficiently.

And remember that food banks provide much more than food. By the time someone shows up hungry, he or she often needs other support. That’s why many of the food banks across the state have trained outreach staff to help Texans apply for other assistance like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps) and the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program, finding new employment and more.

The pandemic that continues to rage has made food assistance more challenging, and we’re constantly adjusting. Welcoming people to our food banks while limiting the spread of COVID has been a balancing act. And getting food to the right places amid broader supply chain issues and price increases has kept us busy, but this is what we do.

Food banks have spent the past year becoming more resilient to meet the growing need in our communities. From expanding our facilities to changing the ways we distribute certain resources, we are constantly evolving. We are grateful for the generous community support including donors, volunteers, our elected officials and agencies like the Texas Department of Agriculture, the Texas Division of Emergency Management and the Texas Health and Human Services Commission for helping us to feed more Texans.

Whatever the rest of 2022 and beyond throws at us, it’s our job to be ready and we will be.

Trisha Cunningham is chief executive of the North Texas Food Bank in Dallas.

Celia Cole is chief executive of Feeding Texas. She lives in Austin.

They wrote this column for The Dallas Morning News.

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