News for North Texas
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
KERA's One Crisis Away project focuses on North Texans living on the financial edge.

Fort Worth-area food bank faces food shortage as busy summer season looms

Volunteers carry food to vehicles
Yfat Yossifor
Cassandra Martin hands out cartons of eggs during a drive-thru food distribution event at Westside Baptist Church in Lewisville in March 2023.

The Tarrant Area Food Bank may not have enough food to help families at risk of going hungry this summer. The Fort Worth-based agency, which supplies food pantries across 13 North Texas counties, warned of the looming deficit Wednesday.

The food bank is in a bind: The number of people requesting help from the food bank and its partners remain above pandemic heights, even as donated food and funding are down.

Already, the food bank is giving each individual less food to stretch resources and serve more people, said CEO Julie Butner. As the organizations struggles, its roughly 500 local partner agencies that rely on the food bank to serve their communities are also feeling the pinch.

“We just had one of our partner agencies have to close the doors on their pantry because they can't afford to keep it open. They don't have enough food. They don't have enough money to buy the food. They've had to close it down,” Butner said.

The looming shortage is particularly troubling as Tarrant Area Food Bank gears up for a seasonal uptick. Over the summer, more families seek help from food pantries to make up for meals their kids ate at school during the academic year.

Butner attributes a big part of the current bind to Congressional gridlock: The federal Farm Bill, which was held up for months amid partisan fights over anti-hunger aid and other food policy, funds more than half of the food that the Tarrant Area Food Bank relies on.

“Food that we would have in our distribution center today is not here,” Butner said. “We're hoping that it will come later in the year, but it's just really poor timing because kids get out of school in a month and we just don't have the same level food support.”

Supply is down

This short-term crunch comes against a backdrop of wider challenges.

The food bank has seen a 10% decline in donations from the food industry this year. She said food distributors and manufacturers have increased supply chain efficiency, which reduces the amount of excess food that gets donated to food banks.

These folks are working. They're working hard. They're not making enough money, and the lines are getting longer and the support from government and the support from community members that have the means are down.
Tarrant Area Food Bank CEO Julie Butner

Cash donations are coming in lower than expected this year, too. In addition to Farm Bill delays, government supports for food banks have been cut back down from pandemic-era highs.

Although Congress finally passed the Farm Bill in March, Butner said she’s still not sure how much help to expect from the feds. She thinks it’ll likely take months for the funding to flow to her organization, arriving after summer vacation starts and more families seek help.

“Our predicament here in Fort Worth and the Tarrant area is that, coupled with that dilemma, we have one of the fastest growing metropolitan areas in the country,” Butner said. “And so we have more people moving here than nearly all other parts of the country, and there's a subset of those folks who are relocating that are in jobs that do not pay a living wage.”

Demand is up

Butner said many families are also facing greater financial strain after reductions in safety net that programs expanded during the pandemic.

About a year after SNAP benefits were cut back to pre-pandemic levels, there are 334,000 fewer Texans receiving help from the federal nutrition assistance program, according to state data. That amounts to a $44 million monthly reduction in grocery-buying power from the program than in February 2023, before the rollback started.

In the 13 counties Tarrant Area Food Bank serves, about 33,000 fewer individuals have benefits than before the rollback. That’s cut out $4.5 million per month in aid to buy groceries. That reduction in benefits comes even after the Texas Legislature removed some barriers to getting SNAP benefits last session.

That’s compounded by other rollbacks, like an end to pandemic-era Medicaid coverage protections that left over 2 million fewer Texans with health insurance designed to help poor and vulnerable people, and increases to the cost of living.

While low unemployment and rising wages have disproportionately helped lower-income people, cuts to assistance programs and inflation have left many struggling, Butner said.

“People don't have the same surplus income that they had a year or two years ago because right here in Dallas Fort Worth, our cost of living has gone up. We have a housing shortage. We have a childcare shortage. We’ve had food [inflation] at double digits,” Butner said.

'Crisis management'

According to federal Agriculture Department data, Texas has a higher rate of people at risk of going hungry than every other state except for Arkansas. The United Way’s latest report comparing earnings to the cost of living found 43% of Texas households in 2021 did not earn a living wage.

“Think about all the people that you are faced with every day, whether it is your grocery store attendant or the wait staff at your favorite restaurant, or where you drop off your dry cleaning, or the people who mow your lawn. They're not making [a living wage],” Butner said. “And those are the folks that are in our lines. These folks are working. They're working hard. They're not making enough money, and the lines are getting longer.”

When government aid expanded during the pandemic, it temporarily lifted millions of people out of poverty and gave families a financial cushion. Then rollbacks began even as inflation drove up the cost of living. Food banks, Butner said, are a form of “crisis management.” They serve an essential service, but they’re far downstream from state and federal policy choices that could drive down food insecurity.

“That's a much bigger issue and requires people and organizations coming together and deciding that we're going to do something about this,” Butner said. “We've proven that we can when the government gets involved, because we did reduce food insecurity rates at the tail end of the pandemic because of the additive government support that was being provided.”

The Tarrant Area Food Bank collects and distributes food given away by more than 500 local partners like nonprofits, churches and school in Bosque, Cooke, Denton, Erath, Hamilton, Hill, Hood, Johnson, Palo Pinto, Parker, Somervell, Tarrant, and Wise Counties.

The food bank has a searchable map of places where people can find free food on its website:

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

KERA News is made possible through the generosity of our members. If you find this reporting valuable, consider making a tax-deductible gift today. Thank you.

Christopher Connelly is a reporter covering issues related to financial instability and poverty for KERA’s One Crisis Away series. In 2015, he joined KERA to report on Fort Worth and Tarrant County. From Fort Worth, he also focused on politics and criminal justice stories.