Doritos and Pepsi? Or Local Produce? What Do Food Insecure People Really Want to Eat?

February 12, 2013

By: Amber Jekot, Food Planning Task Force Organizer

The Food Planning Task Force of McLennan County is currently finalizing its strategic plan for alleviating hunger in Waco and McLennan County.  We are a well-intentioned group that recognizes that we don’t have all of the answers, so in order to ensure that the wide-ranging voices of the community are being heard, we’ve begun using Community Input Boards to collect feedback from community members and those who are experiencing food insecurity.

CIB Image

I had the unique opportunity to take these boards to Waco’s Project Homeless Connect on January 31st and ask attendees their advice on how the Waco community could better serve them.

Project Homeless Connect is an annual event that allows individuals and families who are experiencing homelessness and/or poverty to come to one location and receive a variety of local services.  Haircuts, dental care, veteran’s services, and federal benefits outreach were among the many services offered this year.  The feedback the Food Planning Task Force received from participants was invaluable.

Since the prevailing image of SNAP (formerly known as food stamps) seems to be a grocery cart spilling over with sodas, sugary processed foods, candy, and Doritos, I was elated to collect anecdotal evidence that highlights that those who receive federal assistance and who are homeless actually do desire to eat healthy foods.


I was floored by the responses.  Every attendee I spoke with about the food they received from pantries and other aid programs shared that they wanted more vegetables and fresh food. One participant remarked: “We want real vegetables, not those canned ones.”

Another woman approached me and self-identified as morbidly obese, explaining that she knew she needed to eat better but was constrained by her financial situation. She explained: “I have two children, a bum leg, and all I can afford are processed foods and carbs.” 

Research shows that obesity is a growing trend among America’s poor. It would appear that much of the food that’s available to low-income people contribute to this phenomenon. 

What I gathered from conversations I had with participants at Project Homeless Connect was that obesity was a result of the high cost of food not simply a person’s desire to consume unhealthy food.

Relatedly, the Waco Downtown Farmer’s Market recently installed an EBT machine that accepts SNAP dollars. Many scoffed at the idea that SNAP recipients would want fresh fruit and vegetables. Yet, naysayers may be surprised to learn that there are SNAP recipients who actually let their SNAP dollars roll over in order to save up for fresh, local produce.

Attendees of Project Homeless Connect were excited about the opportunity to use SNAP at the farmer’s market as well, and I was pleased to have heard so many incredible stories that debunked the stereotype of Waco’s food insecure.

S.O.S (Spring Onto Summer) Food Drive THIS FRIDAY!

April 23, 2012

"Children feeding children"

Posters have been posted. Cars have been blanketed with fliers. And, children all over the area are gathering canned food items for this Friday’s S.O.S. Food Drive.

The goal of the Spring Onto Summer Food Drive is “children feeding children.” When school lets out each summer, Central Texas food pantries struggle to provide food for the increased numbers of children no longer receiving free or reduced meals each day at school. This spring food drive hopes to restock those shelves further eliminating food insecurity in McLennan County. Local baseball leagues, soccer teams and youth sports groups are participating in this year’s event. If you would like to promote the food drive and encourage children in your group to donate this Friday, please contact the McLennan County Hunger Coalition at 254-224-8486 or email them at

S.O.S 2012 will take place on April 27th from 8am to 6pm.

Volunteers will accept donations at 7 convenient Waco-area locations:

Grande Communications

7200 Imperial Drive, Waco, TX

Channel 25 KXXV

1909 South New Road, Waco, TX


600 Hewitt Drive, Waco, TX

1521 Interstate 35 N, Waco, TX

4320 Franklin Avenue, Waco, TX

Sam’s Club

2301 East Waco Drive, Waco, TX


100 Peplow St,  Robinson TX 76706

Want more information? Contact the McLennan County Hunger Coalition at 254-224-8486 or email them at You may also visit them online at

Mark your calendars! April 17th Town Hall Meeting Announced.

April 6, 2012


The Food Planning Task Force of McLennan County Announces Town Hall Meeting

 [WACO, TX – April 2, 2012]—The Food Planning Task Force of McLennan County is a diverse group of organizations, businesses, and individuals working together to end hunger in McLennan County. The Task Force has scheduled a Town Hall Meeting April 17th from 2-4 pm where several of its work groups will present and update attendees on their efforts to address hunger in McLennan County.  Attendees include members of the McLennan County Hunger Coalition, Caritas of Waco, Meals on Wheels, and World Hunger Relief, Inc. There will also be an update on the Summer Meals program and information on how the community can get involved with Summer Meals.

The Town Hall Meeting is April 17th from 2-4 pm in the Cooper Room at the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce.

The public is invited to the meeting. It is a great opportunity to see what the Food Planning Task Force is doing in the community and to ask questions and offer feedback.

For more information, please contact:

Shamethia Webb

FPTF Coordinator

Texas Hunger Initiative

(254) 757-5638


Alexis Christenson

Field Organizer

Food Planning Task Force

(254) 757-5638

Nearly 46.5 Million Americans Participated in SNAP in January 2012

April 4, 2012

Slight Dip Overall Leaves Caseloads Just Shy of National Record
Program Responds to Unemployment and Underemployment

SNAP national participation in January 2012 dipped to 46,449,850 people, down by 64,307 people from the record SNAP participation levels of December 2011. 28 states registered over-the-month caseload increases and all but four states registered increases over the prior January levels.

Unemployment and underemployment in most states and efforts to enroll more eligible needy people have contributed to SNAP caseload growth in recent years. More than one in seven Americans receives SNAP –that percentage (15.0%) is comparable to the percentage of the American workforce affected by unemployment or underemployment (15.1 % according to US Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics U-6 Measure).

To read more and download the January 2012 Participation Tables, visit

Waco Downtown Farmers Market Looking to Accept SNAP Benefits

March 26, 2012

In a 2011 news report, of the 233,000 residents of McLennan County’s, 66,000 qualified for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or “food stamps.” Of those who were eligible, less than half actually participated. That’s more than 33,000 people who shouldn’t suffer from food insecurity, but do. Why?

Is it the stigma? Or, the fact that parts of Waco and McLennan County suffer from the phenomenon of food desserts*? In McLennan County, simply having SNAP isn’t the battle; having a place to use it is — especially if that place provides locally grown produce and healthful food for growing families.

Located in an area where 74.4% of residents have low access to food,  The Waco (Texas) Downtown Farmers Market (WDFM) is pushing for SNAP acceptance at its weekly market held each Saturday. The market, which started in November 2011, provides locally grown produce, farm-raised meat, fresh eggs, and organic cuisine to market-goers numbering from 500 to 2,000 each weekend.

The WDFM has partnered with the Texas Hunger Initiative, the Food Planning Task Force of McLennan County, Urban Gardening Coalition, the McLennan County Hunger Coalition, and the World Hunger Relief Farm to make the program a reality.

Bethel Erickson-Bruce, Market Manager for the WDFM comments, “By accepting SNAP at Market, we hope to draw in greater participation from neighborhoods all throughout Waco – expanding the capability of all people to purchase fresh, locally grown food.” She adds, “We are also excited about the possibility of having people use their government benefits to vote with their food dollars and support local agriculture and the local economy.”

The ever-present problem of convenience store cuisine primarily obtained in Food Deserts may be uprooted if SNAP is an option where vegetables, fruits and nutritious food options are easily accessible. The New York Times reported that the University of Washington found in 2007 that “higher-calorie, energy-dense foods are the better bargain for cash-strapped shoppers.” High-calorie/energy-dense food cost on average $1.76 per 1,000 calories, compared with $18.16 per 1,000 calories for low-calorie/nutritious options. The survey also showed that healthful options had a tendency to increase in price, while high-caloric snack foods tended to become more of a bargain, actually dropping in price by 1.8 percent over the length of the study.

Whether federal benefits will be used at the Market remains to be seen, but organizers hope that if the service is out there, local residents will respond. The main goal is to provide and offer locally grown produce to residents who normally are not able to purchase fresh vegetables due to lack of availability or price.

The group is in the initial stages of determining which system they would like to set up for accepting food stamps. Many markets across the country use a wooden token system where shoppers exchange SNAP benefits or debit-card dollars for a shopper-friendly token used like cash at the market. Unused tokens can be credited back to the shoppers accounts or easily used next time they attend the market.  The team’s task force meets regularly to work on and discuss funding possibilities for initial costs, client outreach, vendor outreach, and training volunteers to operate the new system. Main points to consider are ease of use, and non-discriminatory methods for using the benefits. The group hopes that a dual SNAP/Debit machine will be an option to eliminate any hesitance that may accompany the use of SNAP at the market.

The seeds are planted, and now it’s only a matter of time before accepting SNAP at the WDFM becomes a reality. If you would like to know more about how you can help implement the system and help residents obtain healthful food options while supporting local agriculture, visit the market this Saturday and chat with Bethel and the UGC volunteers at the Urban Gardening Coalition booth about ways you can help spread the word. You may also visit them online at or

When and Where: every Saturday from 9am-1pm at 400 South University Parks Drive.  Look for the old Fire Tower.

Helpful hints: Bring cash, for now, and a recyclable bag if you have one (or two) to hold your purchases.


*What is a Food Desert? According to the USDA:

While there are many ways to define a food desert, the Healthy Food Financing Initiative (HFFI) Working Group considers a food desert as a low-income census tract where a substantial number or share of residents has low access to a supermarket or large grocery store. To qualify as low-income, census tracts must meet the Treasury Department’s New Markets Tax Credit (NMTC) program eligibility criteria. Furthermore, to qualify as a food desert tract, at least 33 percent of the tract’s population or a minimum of 500 people in the tract must have low access to a supermarket or large grocery store.

To find where the Food Deserts are in our area, state or nation, visit

~Chelle Samaniego

S.O.S. Food Drive set for April 27, 2012

March 22, 2012

The Spring Onto Summer (S.O.S) Food Drive is upon us!

With summer quickly approaching, local pantries prepare for increased numbers as children who normally eat breakfast and lunch at school are home for the summer. Without the benefit of these guaranteed meals, thousands of area children suffer from food insecurity. And with that, local pantries struggle to supply food for the increased demand.

Last year, the McLennan County Hunger Coalition, local food pantries, Grande Communications and KXXV partnered to bring food to these pantries to assist during the summer months. The Spring Onto Summer (S.O.S.) Food Drive was born, and now — in its second year — added community partners promise continued success.

S.O.S 2012 will take place on April 27th from 8am to 6pm. Remember: Hunger doesn’t take a summer vacation! Bring your non-perishable food items and/or monetary donations and help change the life of a hungry child in McLennan County.

To learn more, visit

Volunteer Opportunities:

Volunteers are needed from 8am to 6pm on April 27th to pick up food at the drop-off locationsPlease call the McLennan County Hunger Coalition at 254-224-8486 or send an email to

Locations Include:

Grande Communications

7200 Imperial Drive, Waco, TX

Channel 25 KXXV

1909 South New Road, Waco, TX

Walmart Stores

600 Hewitt Drive, Waco, TX

1521 Interstate 35 N, Waco, TX

4320 Franklin Avenue, Waco, TX

Sam’s Club

2301 East Waco Drive, Waco, TX


100 Peplow St,  Robinson TX 76706

*Posted by Chelle Samaniego (Waco, Texas)

McLennan County Hunger Coalition donates $1,000 to STARS High School.

March 12, 2012

Posted by Brett Case on March 7, 2012n at

On February 29, representatives from the McLennan County Hunger Coalition (MCHC) met with STARS’s High school principal and students to donate $500 of a $1000 gift to be used for the purchase of healthy snacks and meals for students to eat while in school.   STARS (Students That Are Reaching Success)   is an alternative education school that assists students ages 16-21 in receiving their High school Diplomas.

To read more, visit