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.
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.