A 2022 look back at: Avoid Becoming an Armchair Activist: Take Action to Help the North Texas Food Bank

I am looking back at an article I wrote in April 2020. A lot of changed in 2 years and have decided to revisit this to see what has changed. The first half of the article with background remains unedited. The updated reflection occurs after the Addendum disclaimer.

Acting as an arm-chair activist can evoke some of the greatest faux-feelings. One can spout criticism of a political concern to a few uninterested friends or family members and then clap their hands for a job ‘well done’, all without really doing anything. In reality, if one is complaining about a particular political situation, or if they are wanting to become involved in a grass roots, it is critical to reach out in order to complete an actual call to action. A major issue in the United States is food insecurity among our citizens. In Texas alone, about 1 in 7 adults and about 1 in 4 children struggle with hunger; keep in mind, those numbers were from before the Covid-19 pandemic stalled the economy (Feeding America).

The government attempts to address food insecurity through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or ‘food stamps.’  However, read any blog or article discussing SNAP, and you will have one group of people touting the ‘welfare queens’ and ‘small government’ argument, and the other group of people sharing their own experiences using SNAP. Many of the commenters who claim they were saved by SNAP admit that when the ‘S’ stands for supplemental, it is indeed, supplemental. The SNAP program is not meant to cover the entire month supply of food costs.

Proponents of small government suggest that just about any problem or concern can be solved through the free market of capitalism. Further, any ‘welfare’ program could easily be addressed through charities or corporations, according to the viewpoint. Admittedly, debating between charities or government welfare for public support is an entirely different blog. However, in this case there are food banks that are nonprofit charity organizations that have popped up in order to address food insecurity. Texas has several non-profit food banks across the state, and one of the biggest in North Texas is the aptly named North Texas Food Bank. The North Texas Food Bank (NTFB) relies on volunteers for organizing and distributing foods, donations of food products, and use grant money along with monetary donations to purchase food products to distribute across 13 counties in North Texas. (Note: NTFB is not the only food bank in North Texas. There is also the Tarrant Area Food Bank, and numerous smaller food banks and charities.)

Interestingly, the NTFB has a Government Relations Director. You may ask why would a food bank need someone working with government relations? Come to find out, when the NTFB was established in 1982, they apparently had difficulty in acquiring donations. Supposedly, many people were concerned that if they donated food or donated to the organization, if anyone became sick from the food then the donors would be held liable. So in 1983, members of the NTFB organizing committee actually lobbied the Texas legislature, and together they passed the Good Faith Donor Act, decreeing that so long food items that appeared wholesome and safe were donated in good faith, the donor would not be held liable for any damages or sickness. After the Good Faith Donor Act was passed, people became more comfortable with the idea of donating (North Texas Food Bank). Texas was actually ahead of the Federal Government, because it wasn’t until 1996 when an equivalent law was passed on a federal level (East Texas Food Bank).  So essentially at the start of the NTFB history, it was already intertwined with governmental relations.

The NTFB continues with its government relations and calls upon citizens to help serve as community advocates. In politics, specifically grass roots movement, to help pass legislation it is necessary to bring attention to the issues by using many unified voices. I discovered the NTFB Community Advocacy newsletter earlier in the year and it calls for people to complete small – but not insignificant – calls to action to help amplify the attention that the NTFB is seeking from politicians. The first call to action was to tell friends and family about the 2020 Census. Whereas some people see the Census simply as a survey, it has massive consequences. One example is that the Census count determines how much food will be provided to the NTFB from the USDA as part of the grants and government support. If people do not complete their Census survey, an area will seemingly have a lower population, thus the NTFB would receive less food. One can see how the NTFB receiving less food would be problematic if the food-demand has actually increased over the 10 years.

Addendum: The following text was rewritten in 2022 to reflect the more current annual report years of 2018-2021 that was not available during the initial time of writing in 2020.

Another call to action was contacting our political representatives and asking for increasing the funding for nutrition assistance programs. Government funding may be seen as a reliable income because it is able to remain consistent, or even increase each year or at the very least rarely decrease or fluctuate.  Looking at the North Texas Food Bank’s financial reports from 2018-2021 some interesting trends can be noticed.

Source of funding 2018 2019 2020 2021
Individuals 31% 32% 41% 46%
Corporations 25% 25% 25% 20%
Government Grants / Fees 18% 20% 17% 19%
Source of Food
Donations 74% 66% 48% 42%
Government 17% 27% 35% 32%
Purchased 9% 7% 17% 26%

Source of funding and Food between 2018 and 2021 for NTFB (North Texas Food Bank Financials and Annual Reports).

In 2020, I initially wrote:

During economic turmoil such as the Covid-19 pandemic, it may be unpredictable as to how many corporations withdraw funding due to the stock market situation that happened or refocusing their philanthropical focus, or even how many individuals will cease their donations due to being furloughed. 

Retrospectively, it is comforting to know that during the height of the pandemic in 2020, there was an increase in funding donations from individuals. In 2018 and 2019, the source of funding was relatively similar, with an uptick in source of food donations. Although food donations dropped 18%, the NTB was able to increase purchased food items. As the pandemic contend into 2021, food donations continued to decrease. Whereas corporations gave 5% less funding, individuals had a 5% increase in funding. The NTFB had to increase the amount of food they purchased to best address the growing need.

Back in 2020, I initially said:

A large percentage of people are becoming furloughed or losing their jobs outright, as the leisure-focused economy grinds to a halt. Some people may be eligible to file for SNAP or unemployment, but as mentioned previously, government welfare tends to be supplemental, not all-inclusive. Therefore, many people may be turning to food banks for the very first time.

A Washington Post article in December 2021 reported that a survey conducted by Feeding America suggest that 85% of the largest food banks were seeing the same or a higher number of people than in September. Further, just in August / September alone, there were 20,000 more Americans on Food Stamps. (Reiley 2021). In stark contrast of the financial situation in 2020 that saw the NTFB at risk of running out of money, things have calmed down now (Solis 2020). A local article on the NTFB in December 2021 suggests that they have “thousands of dollars: to buy specific food-needs. Rather, the issue recently has been supply chain management from supplies. The article continues to state that there is now a greater reliance on individual consumers that purchase and donate items (Gravley 2021). So looking back at the chart of funding and food sources, although individual money donations have increased, the food donations are lower.

So in conclusion, over the last two years thing have managed to improve with food banks. Where back then, it was a money issue, now it is a supply chain and food donation issue. 

You are still encouraged to donate food or even you time. In addition, you can sign up to become a community advocate and participate in small, meaningful steps to help shape the politics surrounding food access and security.

If you prefer monetary donations, You can click this hyperlink to donate to the North Texas Area Food Bank or alternatively you can click this link to donate to the Tarrant Area Food.

Looking back, it is comforting knowing that so many people stepped up to help their fellow Texans. Although the strains of the pandemic may be just a little less, we can not forget that even before COVID, we had 1 in 7 Texans struggling with access to food. The food banks in Texas are critical to ensure that people do not have to go without food. Please, do not be an armchair activist; help your fellow Texan.

Works Cited

East Texas Food Bank. “Food Donor Protection Act.” https://www.easttexasfoodbank.org/join-the-fight/donate-food/food-donor-protection-acts/

Feeding America. “What Hunger Looks Like in Texas.” https://www.feedingamerica.org/hunger-in-america/texas

North Texas Food Bank. “Financials and Annual Reports.” https://ntfb.org/about-us/financials-annual-reports/

North Texas Food Bank. “Our History.” https://ntfb.org/about-us/

Solis, Natalie. 2020. “North Texas Food Bank running out of money as demand continues to grow due to COVID-19 pandemic”. Fox 4 Local News. https://www.fox4news.com/news/north-texas-food-bank-running-out-of-money-as-demand-continues-to-grow-due-to-covid-19-pandemic

Reiley, L. “Food bank numbers are rising again with more new people in lines — grandparents.” Washington Post. Dec 2021. Accessed at https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2021/12/14/food-banks-holiday-need-grandparents/

Gravley, G. “Food banks in North Texas experience supply chain, staffing issues during 2021 holiday season.” Star Local Media. Dec 2021. Accessed at   https://starlocalmedia.com/carrolltonleader/news/food-banks-in-north-texas-experience-supply-chain-staffing-issues-during-2021-holiday-season/article_410e2e18-4d61-11ec-9d71-6f2e881c6599.html


Article by: Dietetic Intern Brandon Kelley: UT Southwestern’s Master of Clinical Nutrition Coordinated Program

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