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North Texas Food Bank Launches Ambitious Goal

By Bill Zeeble

Dallas, TX – Bill Zeeble, KERA reporter: To many in Dallas' Oak Lawn neighborhood, these Holy Trinity Church chimes are more like a dinner bell. That's because growing numbers of the poor and hungry, like Jose Antonio, come to the church's food pantry.

Jose Antonio: I am already finished my groceries and I don't have any more food.

Zeeble; Antonio's not what many typically think of as someone needing food. He's neither homeless, elderly, nor a battered spouse with children. He's 34 & single. He's never been here before.

Antonio: I was working before but I lose my job, last month . At this time, I don't pay bills, my rent, I don't' have any more food.

Zeeble: This food pantry, like hundreds across north Texas and thousands nationwide, has seen ever growing numbers of working poor among their clients. Volunteer Tony Levatino, who manages the Holy Trinity Center, says in 2004, this pantry served 3 thousand families. Today, that number's more than doubled.

Tony Levatino, Managing Director, Holy Trinity Center: So, it's a big increase. And we're seeing this year running ahead of last year.

Bill Zeeble, KERA reporter: Which is why the north Texas Food Bank on Cockrell Hill Road has never been busier. This non-profit warehouse operation distributes basics to clients across 13 counties. The Holy Trinity Center is just one among 252 clients that picks up bulk supplies, from beans to ground beef. North Texas Food Bank CEO Jan Pruitt says all the pantries need more.

Jan Pruitt, Chief Executive Officer, North Texas Food Bank: We have families with 2 jobs and still can't put food on the table. Some of our agencies are reporting a 25 percent increase. Some national numbers are reporting a 63 percent increase over last year.

Zeeble: Pruitt and her board concluded they're seeing chronic hunger, and it's getting worse. They could push a little this year, says Pruitt, and deliver a few more meals. But that won't do it. So Food Bank leaders have just adopted an ambitious plan to double its output in 3 years.

Pruitt: The north Texas food bank will close the gap by providing access to 50 million meals annually. Our board has challenged us to not look at what can we succeed at doing, but what do we need to do. If we don't do it, we know there are hungry people.

Zeeble: Pruitt says there's a lot of work ahead, from growing the budget another 60 percent, to securing more food from private and government sources. The payoff, she says, will always be worth it. At Holy Trinity's pantry, parolee Cheryl Rhudy agrees, as she collects her monthly allotment of food for her family.

Cheryl Rhudy, food pantry user: It's day by day. There's a lot of struggles, even people that are middle class are struggling, because our economy s high and it's a struggle for everybody. But if you don't look on the bright side what you going to do? Feel down? Can't do that, because it causes relapse. I've been clean a year and I don't want a relapse, so it's day by day one day at a time. Got to believe in something and I believe in something greater that myself.

Zeeble: So does Jan Pruitt, those with the Food Bank, and hundreds of pantry volunteers.

Bill Zeeble KERA news.