Many in North Texas wake up every day uncertain of when they’ll get their next meal. On Friday, local, state and national experts met to find solutions to hunger and food insecurity at the fifth annual Dallas Hunger Summit. Many agreed those solutions have to start from the bottom.
About half a million people in Dallas County lack access to reliable food sources. Two-hundred thousand of them are children. While the numbers are staggering, the consensus of the hunger summit was that change is possible.
“We have the resources in Texas. We have the resources in Dallas. What we need is the political will,” said Audrey Rowe, who is the administrator of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service. She was the summit’s keynote speaker.
Rowe pointed out several efforts that could make a big difference in reducing hunger across the state. Those include getting more meals to low-income students during the summer and getting parents more money to spend on food when kids aren’t in school through the Summer Electronic Benefit Transfer program, or Summer EBT.
Another suggestion was to offer coupons to incentivize purchasing healthier foods – like skim milk over whole milk. Then there’s the option of expanding SNAP Double Dollars, which is a program that doubles families’ federal food benefit dollars when they purchase local, fresh produce at farmers markets or grocery stores. Another major concern is putting more grocery stores in under-served communities like South Dallas. Rowe said ultimately, solutions need to grow from local roots.
“An individual who lives in a neighborhood knows exactly what their challenges are, and they also have some solutions in mind,” she said. “We need to engage those solutions and try things and be more creative and innovative and be willing to lean forward and take new initiatives and see what works and what doesn’t work.”
Dallas has its challenges. Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Erik Wilson said those include lack of public transportation, affordable housing and decreasing incomes – all of which make prioritizing meals more difficult. Wilson said hunger isn’t just about having food.
“We can produce more food, but that doesn’t resolve the problem. Resolving the problem is, if a person can make a higher wage, we’ve eliminated the problem all together,” Wilson said. “So it’s not just one thing, but a systematic approach of several different things going on at the same time, and I think that’s what we’re working towards now.”
Summit panelists stressed the importance of local networks, like non-profits, faith-based organizations, hospitals and school districts.
Keynote speaker Audrey Rowe’s challenge to the summit is ambitious: end hunger by 2020.