Matt Pierce Briscoe Published 12/16/20 14:28pm CST
Maria Valencia, 33, never once imagined that she and her husband would have to rely on a food pantry to help feed their family of 5.
Before the pandemic the Valencia family, who lives in the Corpus Christi, Texas area, were making ends meet by combining their salaries, Maria caring for the elderly and her husband working in an area restaurant.
But last June, Maria lost her job. “That’s when everything changed for us,” she says.
The sudden loss of income and an unexpected vehicle repair that cost the family over $600 put the family, which includes four children – a 14 year-old, a nine-year-old, and a four year-old – under serious financial stress. The one-time government stimulus helped and so did the extra unemployment benefits, but that money quickly ran out and government unemployment benefits were allowed to expire by Congress.
The family is underwater in debt and Valencia says that they depend on the Coastal Bend Food Bank to put food on the table.
The Valencia’s are not the only ones living in this peril.
While politicians wrangle about what way is best to move ahead, many in our community are going hungry or missing meals. The Census Bureau says that most Americans are suffering from hunger amid the pandemic.
The need has always been here and as many as one in six Corpus Christi area residents could be going without. Nationally, that number is higher— one in eight Americans reported that they did not have enough food in November, according to a recent census survey.
The reality is that food insecurity has seriously increased in 2020 and it wil likely only get worse.
This time last year the elderly and the underemployed made up most of the people who sought help from the Coastal Bend Food Bank and area pantries that they serve, but there has been a recent swing service workers and tourism related workers seeking services.
Families with children have been hit the hardest. When area schools closed, many parents had to pay out-of-pocket for sitters or nanny’s. Others were forced to decide if one parent would stop working to stay home and care for the children – either way it resulted in less income to the household. Children staying home also results in higher utility bills and extra meals, even with schools offering whatever help they could offer. Reality is that hunger and food insecurity are here to stay.
“We have already seen a 25-30% increase in demand,” says Micaela Stewart, spokesperson for the Coastal Bend Food Bank. “Nothing will stop and we will continue reaching out to our community.”
Stewart says that the Coastal Bend Food Bank is working closely with community partners and sponsors to make sure that they can keep meeting the needs of the community’s most vulnerable citizens.
As economically challenged families face the real possibility of assistance running out for them in just a few weeks, the reality is that demand for services like those offered at the Coastal Bend Food Bank will go up.
“It may really increase,” says Stewart. “Regardless, we are going to the best we can.”
But despite there best efforts places like the Coastal Bend Food Bank still help from those who are willing to offer it. Stewart says that they are continuing to work with their community partners such as Texas mega grocer H-E-B to make sure that people do not go hungry.
Each year H-E-B hosts a community meal known as the “Feast of Sharing.” This year, because of social distancing and coronavirus concerns that feast is being forced not to happen in its traditional way. On Saturday, H-E-B will partner with the Coastal Bend Food Bank to conduct a drive-thru food distribution event where they will pass out approximately 6,000 meals to the hungry in the community. But even with that Stewart says that there are still more jobs that need to be done.
“We need people to sort, inspect, box and distribute meals across our eleven county service area,” Stewart says. “We can create 4 meals for $1 but what we really need are volunteers to make it happen and financial support from our community.”
But as the community rallies around to find solutions to the problems it remains unclear what form of support local leadership will provide to not only those who help the economically challenged, but those who are going without.
On Tuesday, Corpus Christi residents went to the polls to determine who would lead them into the future. All of the campaign talk focused around special interest money, long-term goals and projects, repairing infrastructure and creating new economic drivers within the community. Mayor-elect Paulette Guajardo will without a doubt have a full-plate to contend with and not least of those is dealing with the charitable need that is so badly needed within her community.
Guajardo did not campaign on poverty or addressing the economic impacts of the community. Aside from some obligatory visits to food distribution sites and public forum discussions about homelessness, there has been no clear policy line or initiative laid out by the incoming mayor. There isn’t likely to be one in the near future, either.
Mayors across the country have united in their efforts to use their positions to lobby lawmakers for greater coronavirus and economic relief. But here locally there has been no signal from Guajardo or City Hall that a clear policy will be defined. Until it is, the hungry will continue to draw from whatever resources are available.
Often lost in the mire of city government are the poor and needy. They get overlooked and forgotten amid other problems that policy makers feel are more pressing. Things like desalination and infrastructure take priority, as they should. Social welfare is often just a fleeting problem that is left to fend for itself. Other cities the size of Corpus Christi have clearly defined initiatives when it comes to the problem and while Corpus Christi does too, the problem still lands squarely at the feet of policy wonks at City Hall and being able to use their influence to properly lobby for those in their community who are more worried about where their next meal is going to come from than who they support for mayor.
In all, the solution isn’t one size fits all and clearly define policies are hard to find. But the reality is that as people continue to go hungry, the fear of demand will absolutely increase. That is a problem that can’t be overlooked any time soon.