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Six Months Into The COVID-19 Pandemic, Food Banks Continue To Serve Struggling Texans

More than 1 in 9 Texans reported that their household didn’t have enough food to eat in the previous week, according to the Census Bureau. Many Texans are turning to food banks to help feed their families.

Early Friday morning, people began lining up by the hundreds in the parking lot of a Fort Worth ISD football stadium, waiting in their cars for workers in brightly colored vests – as well as a handful of Air National Guardsmen in fatigues – to load 100 or so pounds of meat, eggs, produce and dry goods into their open trunks.

Many waved or shouted their thanks as they pulled away, and the cars behind them inched forward to get their groceries. By the end of the morning, the Tarrant Area Food Bank had handed out enough groceries to feed 1,560 families for a week.

Huge food distribution events like this are a well-choreographed ritual now, six months into the pandemic. Even as politicians tout the return of jobs, less than half of the jobs lost in March and April have come back, and some economists expect more job cuts this fall.

Last week, Census Bureau surveyors found that 11.5% of Texans didn’t have enough food to eat in the previous week. That’s left food banks working hard to meet the unrelenting demand of these modern-day bread lines.

“It’s hard to forecast the needs, with the pandemic,” said Steve Martin, regional director of operations for the Tarrant Area Food Bank. “If things turn around in the economy, the need will go down. But even when people are starting to get their jobs back, they’ll still need a little extra boost until they get their first pay check and catch back up.”

The Tarrant Area Food Bank serves a 13-county region that includes the western half of Dallas-Fort Worth. Before the pandemic, the food bank had just finished upgrading its Fort Worth warehouse and planned to distribute 50 million pounds of food this year. This summer, the nonprofit purchased another warehouse in Parker County to help it meet the surging demand, and now it’s on track to distribute 70 million pounds by the end of 2020.

‘Thank God for places like this’

In the stadium parking lot, each of the hundreds of cars and trucks in line to get food is filled with stories of struggles to make ends meet. Many were struggling before the coronavirus took away hours or jobs. Others have never been to a food bank before this year.

For Felicia Sanchez, who lives in Fort Worth, the food bank is a lifeline as she looks for a job. Waiting in the passenger seat of her friend’s car, she says she has years of experience as a dental hygienist, and she’s been out of work for months. After her car was stolen, she had to limit her job search.

“The jobs I want are in Plano or in Arlington or Irving, but I don’t have a car right now for that,” she said.

Now, Sanchez is applying to retail jobs to get by and hopefully save enough for a car. But even that’s a bust.

“It’s a little depressing to me to put in applications and [be told that] I’m overqualified,” Sanchez said.

Griselda Granados from North Richland Hills was picking up food for her full house. She cares for her two young sons and her parents. Her sister, who is recovering from cancer, lives with them as well. Granados says her husband’s paycheck can’t always cover all the bills, so she comes to the food bank to fill the gap. Nonetheless, she says she feels lucky, because their house is paid off and her husband is working.

“I feel more sorry for people who pay rent and lost jobs,” Granados said. “I can breathe a little bit better.”

Ivan Rubell of Arlington was planning to start working at a Dollar General in March, he says, but his job disappeared with the pandemic. Since then, the 55-year-old has been getting by on his disability check, but it doesn’t cover all of his expenses.

“It’s enough for me to pay to get the roof over my head,” Rubell said. “Thank God for places like this that make it possible for me to have food. That’s a burden that’s lifted off of me.”

Got a tip? Christopher Connelly is KERA's One Crisis Away Reporter, exploring life on the financial edge. Email Christopher at cconnelly@kera.org.You can follow Christopher on Twitter @hithisischris.

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