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North Texans With Jobs Are Going Hungry

North Texas is 91 million meals short. That’s how many breakfasts, lunches and dinners it would take to feed everyone in the region who’s hungry.

The North Texas Food Bank filled about two thirds of that void last year, and the traditional client is changing. In fact, more people with jobs are getting meals from food pantries than anyone else.

 Volunteers with a program called “Feed Lake Highlands” expect 37 families to show up Wednesday. By the end of pantry hours, 93 people will have walked off with frozen chicken, dried cranberries, baking potatoes and bags chock full of non-perishables.

Credit Courtney Collins / KERA News
Rey Gonzalez takes advantage of the food pantry near his home in Lake Highlands. He also volunteers there.

One of those people is Rey Gonzalez.

He came straight from work, still in his mechanics shirt. He owns a diesel engine repair business and just moved to Irving.

“So between the transition of moving and chasing all my customers down and stuff, it’s a little difficult,” Gonzalez says.

He’s married with two kids and his wife works too. Their two incomes still leave them short when it comes to paying the bills and putting food on the table.

“The pay scale’s not going up the way it should compared to what’s being charged to the family, to the average family as far as rent, fuel, food. A gallon of milk has doubled in the last five years probably,” Gonzalez says. My salary hasn’t doubled.”

Gonzalez is part of the food pantry majority. According to the new “Hunger in America” report, almost 60 percent of North Texas Food Bank clients had a job in the last year.

“The stereotypes that so many people have about who’s hungry in America and who’s hungry in North Texas, they’re just wrong,” says Jan Pruitt, President and CEO of the North Texas Food Bank.

Credit Courtney Collins / KERA News
President and CEO Jan Pruitt of the North Texas Food Bank.

She says there are all kinds of unexpected truths buried inside the once-every-four-year national report. For example, 95 percent of clients have permanent housing.

Perhaps even more startling, North Texans made an average of eight trips to the pantry last year. Twenty years ago, the typical client came twice.

“So what that tells me is there’s been a shift in this being emergency assistance to being chronic hunger relief,” says Pruitt.

Which means the North Texas food bank has tall orders to fill.

“The only answer is jobs. Good jobs, full-time jobs that pay a living wage,” says Pruitt.

That might mean making 15 or 16 dollars an hour. Until that’s a widespread reality, the North Texas Food Bank will keep chipping away at hunger, one meal at a time.

Courtney Collins has been working as a broadcast journalist since graduating from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in 2004. Before coming to KERA in 2011, Courtney worked as a reporter for NPR member station WAMU in Washington D.C. While there she covered daily news and reported for the station’s weekly news magazine, Metro Connection.