Deep Dive with the North Texas Food Bank

For this week’s Deep Dive Series, we got to sit down with Haley LaCoume from the North Texas Food Bank.

The North Texas Food Bank was founded in 1982 and currently serves 13 counties and over 400 partner agencies all across North Texas. Through fundraisers, community donations, and food purchases, the North Texas Food Bank is able to donate 10-12 million meals to those in need each month. In this interview, we talked with Haley about how we as individuals can help fight world hunger, how someone in need can take part in their programs, and what the hunger gap looks like in North Texas.

Keep reading this Deep Dive Series to find out more about this fantastic story. Make sure to tune in every Thursday at 5pm CT on our @Clappertalks account to listen to the bonus questions that will only be available on our live radio show: Clapper Talks. And keep an eye on Emma’s profile for any Britain’s Got Talent updates!

Deep Dive to learn more about this amazing organization!

Tell us a little bit about your organization for anyone who may not know.

We serve 13 counties; we service Dallas county, Collin county, and all the way up to the Oklahoma border, so we have a large surface area. We are part of Feeding America, so they give us 13 counties that we can serve. We’re actually the 5th highest food insecure of Feeding America food banks.

Food insecure basically means “unable to afford food”. With inflation right now – which is the highest it’s been in 40 years – it’s just people who are down on their luck and not able to afford the food. We offer food assistance to any one who needs it. There’s Snap Benefits, which is a program people can sign up for. We also work with over 400 food pantries within our service network, and they can provide other assistance that we are not always able to, just to get down to the root cause of food insecurity, which is a sign of poverty.

What is the hunger gap and what does it look like in North Texas?

According to Feeding America, we have 700,000 people in our 13 counties who are food insecure – just here in North Texas. 1 in 5 kids and 1 in 8 adults are food insecure. It could be your neighbors, it could be your family, it could be your friends – you don’t know that the face of hunger. Especially after COVID, it’s changed.

Looking at some of the stats on your website, we were impressed by how many people can be affected by it in our own backyard. Can you tell us what the main reasons why families and individuals go hungry are?

We do studies because we want to make sure we can get down to the root cause of this hunger gap. We do everything we can to provide resources to our agencies and food pantries. They see the community, they know their people, so we rely heavily on their feedback and try to provide them with what we can. The food banks have specific programs, like free housing programs and rent assistance. We try to give them the food and all that so they can help provide other assistance. I know that hunger gap seems like a lot, but even in November, we were able to provide 11.6 million meals to the community. We’re able to provide around 10-12 million meals a month. It’s still not enough, but we do a lot and we have a lot of great people that we work with.

Browsing through your website we found many programs, including child hunger and senior programs. Can you tell us about what these programs are for and how they help close the hunger gap in Texas?

We have targeted programs for specific people. We have our Food for Kid’s program and it’s for kids to take home on Friday afternoons who are not always guaranteed a meal on the weekends. They have school lunches and breakfasts, but that doesn’t mean that they have food on Saturday and Sunday. So we make little backpacks for these kids with granola, peanut butter, (Good ol’ peanut butter! Everyone loves peanut butter!) some cereal, and stuff that they can have during the weekends. There’s also the School Pantry that the families can sign up for. The whole family can participate and have enough food for the weekend.

Then we have our senior program, which is governmentally regulated. We do actually get government funding for specific program like CSFP, which is the Commodity Supplemental Feeding Program. It’s something seniors go on, and is also called the “government cheese program” because they’ll get dairy as well. So we have specific programs that we can help provide. We have another one that’s just for families; it’s an emergency box that we came up with during COVID. When COVID started, we made some standard boxes that we can give out to families and individuals that need it.

COVID was a wake up call for us. We noticed that…when the world stops, we come in. We were noticing that companies were laying off executives, and they were trying to figure out how to pay their bills and feed their families. So we definitely kicked it into high gear. We’re always trying to find new ways of innovating. We’re seeing now with our senior population that some of them can’t leave their homes. So we have partnered with DoorDash and have food being delivered to seniors who are homebound. I’m telling you, there’s a lot of bad in the world, but we have some really great people that step up and help, and it’s always great to see the good in everyone.

There was one particular service that caught our attention and we were hoping to learn more about it. How do Mobile Pantries work?

We had this before COVID and it drastically changed. So the food bank ourselves, we don’t hand out food; we supply pantries in the area, but our Mobile Pantry is a pantry on wheels. They will set up at churches, schools, any kind of community group, and would basically have a market. Then COVID hit and we couldn’t have a market like that, so we set up as a drive through style. We had one during the middle of the pandemic at Fair Park in Dallas, and the line was two miles long. We’ve continued the pattern of the drive through and we’re just putting food into everyone’s cars.

We always try to get produce out to the community because when you go to the grocery store, that’s usually one of the more expensive items. Also, we want to make sure we’re handing out nutritious stuff. We have a wonderful partnership with local farmers, where we pay them to donate the produce that is not deemed worthy to sell to stores to us. Then we have rescue programs, where grocers donate food or produce that is on its last leg, basically, and we work to partner them with agencies and local food pantries so the produce can go out before it hits its expiration.

What can an individual citizen do to help with your mission?

Donations. We always say $1 equals three meals, so it’s crazy how much even $5 can do. That just provided 15 meals to someone who didn’t have it. You can help even by spreading the word if you can’t make a donation. Just telling people about the mission and what we’re trying to do. You can also come volunteer. We have wonderful volunteer opportunities! My favorite is cold sort: if it’s a hot, Texas, July day, you come and volunteer in a 40 degree cold dock and just sort our frozen products.

All volunteer sign up is done online. There are several opportunities and even some of our partners will post their opportunities on our website. We try and help them recruit volunteers. We have our main distribution center, that’s our biggest opportunity. It’s usually very packed so we always say try and get in early if you can! The mobile pantries need volunteers and even our senior programs need distribution, where you can go hand out food.

We also have a gardening program, where our wonderful garden specialist will make videos about gardening, cooking, just to help people who can’t get out to volunteer. She donates foods to pantries as well, so she’ll have people out their gardening. She does little educational programs, and is spreading the word.

We were so happy to partner with you to help put food on the table for families in need. We would love to get people on this Holiday Bazaar to understand the importance of each donation. What is the importance of donations to the North Texas Food Bank and how can they directly help the hunger gap?

Out of every dollar that is donated, 95% goes to food related costs. The rest goes to fundraising and general admin, but 95% of every dollar goes toward our initiative.

If you know someone who wants to receive food assistance from you guys or you yourself and your family is going through a rough patch, what are the steps to get meals and donations from you guys?

As soon as you log on to ntfb.org, you’ll see Get Food Assistance. Our Mobile Pantry schedule will be up, and you can type in your address get the the nearest food pantry. You can go there no questions asked.

You also can apply for SNAP benefits, which is a government program, so that process does involve some more information. The pantries will help you with whatever you need to stock your shelves at home without signing up or registering. When we do distribution, we do have intake forms. Some of our programs are government regulated. There are some steps that we have to track on our end for those, just to make sure we can continue to have those programs. But you can go to a food pantry no questions asked.

What about if someone you know is struggling and needs assistance? What do you recommend to help them get this assistance?

I would make sure that they know what resources they do have and what they can use when they’re ready. And just make sure they have all the correct information. It’s no questions asked at the pantries; they just want to help you get whatever you need.

What do you see as a lack of goods and food in your food pantries? What are those needs?

We do what we can with food shortages. We know that every county is different, and even city to city is different. That’s why we rely on our food pantries to tell us what they need. We rely on their feedback, because we purchase lot of the food ourselves so we try to get what they need. We also try and take food donations so we can help our pantries and they can see our shelves. Any of our agencies can check our website, see what’s on our shelves, and order what they and their clients want. We try our best to listen to them and purchase what they need.

If you do want to purchase a food item, we need canned veggies. Any kind of canned veggies, canned fruit (we do try to do canned fruit for our kid’s program). We always need cans, rice, and peanut butter.

Finally what other events and activities do you have planned for the holiday in the DFW area?

We’re wrapping up the holiday season, but we do have a lot of community campaigns that we’re grateful for during this time. We’re starting to kick our Empty Bowls event into high gear, which I am planning with my director. That will be in February. It’s basically a community event where a local vendor will collect handmade bowls from communities, groups, anyone who wants to donate one. Basically the event is to remind the attendees that no one’s bowl should be empty. So once they leave the event, they will get to select a handcrafted bowl from someone in the community. We’ll have restaurants there, a band, and it’ll be fun. Tickets are on sale now!

Hope you enjoyed learning about the North Texas Food Bank. We are so excited to donate the proceeds from our Holiday Bazaar to this organization and help them close the hunger gap in North Texas. To learn more about upcoming events from the North Texas Food Bank and how you can help support them, check out their website. For our latest deep-dive on @WomenHuntToo, read here.