COVID-19 pandemic creates greater need for food assistance in Keller, Roanoke and north Fort Worth

Volunteers help make snack bags for children at Community Storehouse in Keller. (Sandra Sadek/Community Impact Newspaper)
Volunteers help make snack bags for children at Community Storehouse in Keller. (Sandra Sadek/Community Impact Newspaper)

Volunteers help make snack bags for children at Community Storehouse in Keller. (Sandra Sadek/Community Impact Newspaper)

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic organizations like Community Storehouse and the Tarrant Area Food Bank have been busy. On Oct. 23 alone, more than 2,600 families visited TAFB.

Since March, demand for food assistance has increased to record-high numbers as the pandemic and its consequences have forced many people to turn to social services for help for the first time in their life.

“Since March 16, we have fed over 16,000 individuals, and we’ve seen about a 300% increase in our services,” said Megan Stiller, development director of Community Storehouse, a Keller-based nonprofit that aims to assist children and families in Keller ISD, Northwest ISD and Carroll ISD with education and nutrition.

Across the area, food banks and pantries are rethinking procedures to meet their community’s needs while staying safe. The Tarrant Area Food Bank distributed 60 million meals during fiscal year 2019-20, which ended Sept. 30, according to the food bank’s website.

TAFB President Julie Butner said many families are embarrassed and ashamed when they seek food bank services for the first time.

“It’s heartbreaking,” she said. “People are beginning to understand we have people in our city that are hungry.”

The food bank has increased its distribution by 65% through its network of 350 partners, Butner said. It has also added 35 emergency mobile food pantries to serve the increased need.

As more people request assistance for the first time, many are also learning that food insecurity is not defined solely by where people live and can be affected by factors out of their control, Butner said.

“The frequency [at which people need assistance] is not about whether you live in the city or you live in the country,” she said. “The frequency is about jobs, job loss, crisis or a death in the family. Those kinds of things create food insecurity.”

Defining food insecurity

The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines food insecurity as “the limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods or limited or uncertain ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways.”

A low level of food security is less about the quantity of food and more about the quality, variety, and desirability of food, according to the agency. A lack of access to nutritious and healthy food can be caused by several factors. Families could be struggling with low wages, lack of transportation, lack of nearby grocery stores, lack of affordable housing, high medical costs or a confluence of multiple issues.

In cities such as Keller, Roanoke, and Fort Worth, the people most affected by food insecurity are “working poor,” Stiller said. “We see a lot of parents that are working two to three jobs and living paycheck to paycheck,” she said.

The pandemic has forced many to cope with new challenges, including loss of income, death in the family as a result of the virus, or dealing with the illness itself.

As people have had their income reduced or lost altogether, many have had to make cuts in their daily lives, Stiller said. For many, food is the first thing to go.

“The last thing that people are going to do is get rid of their house or their car,” she said. “You never know what’s going on behind closed doors.”

Child hunger

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the inability of some families to feed their children has become a community issue. To mitigate this impact of the crisis, local school districts have made changes to provide more students with free and reduced-price lunches.

The change is in part due to a USDA program that provides funding to help school districts offer free meal waivers to all students regardless of income.Many districts have expanded free meal programs as a result, including Keller ISD.

As of Oct. 29, 27% of KISD students are on free or reduced-price lunch, and as of Nov. 4, all students in KISD have access to free meals through the end of the 2020-21 school year.

In Northwest ISD, data shows 5,207 students qualified for free and reduced-price lunch for the 2020-21 academic school year. The district currently offers free breakfast and lunch to all elementary and middle school students.

Cassie McQuitty, CEO of Christ’s Haven, a voluntary placement nonprofit in Keller, said having the free lunch waiver for all students in the district is “incredible” for families for which food is still a financial strain but which might not otherwise be eligible for free and reduced-price lunches.

“When you take away the stigma associated with [free and reduced-price lunch], and now, everyone is getting a free lunch, it’s one less sign that our kids have to wear. It’s one less thing that differentiates them from everyone else,” McQuitty said.

Dr. Erin Kane, a family physician at Baylor Scott and White Community Care, said issues of food insecurity not only affect the healthy development of children but also their stress level and their ability to concentrate in school. Children with food insecurity often struggle with obesity, she said.

“We may find kids growing up in families that actually struggle with obesity because they’re eating unhealthy choices,” she said. “That’s what the family has access to, and it can lead to long-term health outcomes that relate to obesity, such as diabetes [and] high blood pressure.”

Free and reduced-price lunch programs are often a lifeline for some families to feed their children, and they have become even more crucial during the pandemic, she said.

“It’s clear that for most families, this is perhaps [the child’s] healthiest meal of the day and sometimes their most reliable meal,” Kane said.

Medical costs

According to 2019 data from nonprofit organization Feeding America, Texans who suffer from food insecurity spent over $200 more on health care on an annual basis than those not affected, and certain health care costs can increase even more for those who are uninsured.

In addition, a 2019 study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ranked Texas among the five U.S. states with the highest per capita health care costs associated with food insecurity.

“This problem has always been here,” Kane said. “We’re just doing a better job of identifying it and recognizing how pervasive hunger and food insecurity really is within our community [...] and how much it ties into a person’s overall health.”
By Sandra Sadek
Sandra Sadek covers the cities of Grapevine, Southlake and Roanoke as well as Carroll ISD for Community Impact. She graduated from Texas State University where she majored in journalism and international relations. She has experience working for several local papers including the University Star, the Katy Times, and the Fort Stockton Pioneer. When she's not on the ground reporting, she enjoys a good book and a hot drink. Follow her on social media @ssadek19.


A doctor holding a clipboard
PPG Health set to open new Fort Worth location in the Alliance area

The company has several other clinics throughout the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

A Johnson Road repaving project will begin the week of March 1. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
City of Keller, Tarrant County to begin repaving work on Johnson Road

The project, which begins east of Rhonda Road, is unrelated to a larger reconstruction project planned for a portion of Johnson Road west of Rhonda.

Snow covers I-45 in Houston during a winter storm that hit Texas the night of Feb. 14. (Shawn Arrajj/Community Impact Newspaper)
Legislators probe energy officials over power failures, lack of preparation heading into winter storm

The Texas Legislature held hearings Feb. 25 with energy companies including Oncor Electric Delivery and the Electric Reliability Council of Texas in response to last week’s historic winter storm, which left millions of Texans without electricity for days.

Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price, the city's longest-serving mayor, delivered her State of the City address on Feb. 25. (Ian Pribanic/Community Impact Newspaper)
Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price speaks to residents, business owners in final State of the City address

Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price addressed residents, business owners, city staff and others in a State of the City address Feb. 25.

The coffee and wine bar offers signature drinks, such as the Honey Bear Latte, made with honey and cinnamon, as well as food options, such as breakfast tacos, charcuterie boards, baked goods and snack boxes. (Courtesy Golden Boy Coffee Co.)
Golden Boy Coffee Co. opens in Plano; Black Rock Coffee Bar coming to Southlake and more DFW-area news

Read the latest business and community news from the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

Tens of thousands of people have been vaccinated at Denton County's vaccine drive-thru clinics at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth. (Courtesy Texas Motor Speedway)
Denton County agencies offer free rides to vaccine appointments at Texas Motor Speedway

Beginning Friday, two Denton County transit services will provide free bus rides to the mass vaccine clinics at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth.

As many as 31 stores across nine states will be shuttered as Fry's Electronics shuts down due to market changes and the pandemic. (Courtesy Qygen, Wikimedia Commons)
Fry's Electronics calls it quits after nearly 36 years in business

As many as 31 stores across nine states will be shuttered as Fry's Electronics shuts down due to market changes and the pandemic.

A lone runner jogs on a snow-covered road in Austin. Transportation projects across the city were briefly paused due to Winter Storm Uri. (Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)
ERCOT: Texas power system was less than 5 minutes from collapse during winter storm

ERCOT's CEO offered details into what led to the massive blackouts that left millions of Texans in the cold last week.

The Keller ISD Education Center was one of at least 16 district campuses or buildings to be affected by power outages due to a winter storm Feb. 15. (Courtesy Keller ISD)
Keller ISD officials assess power outages, storm damage at multiple campuses

Keller ISD officials continue to calculate the extent of the damage caused by a severe winter storm the week of Feb. 15.

Nonprofit Christ's Haven for Children in Keller was a recipient during the first round of PPP funding. (Design by Ellen Jackson/Community Impact Newspaper)
Stimulus loans help save jobs, local businesses in Keller, Roanoke, north Fort Worth

In late December, a second round worth $284 billion was approved to benefit small businesses that exhausted their initial loan or did not receive a loan during the first round.

Chipotle Mexican Grill opened a new Plano location Feb. 20 at the corner of Independence Parkway and Legacy Drive. (Courtesy Chipotle Mexican Grill)
Plano Chipotle opens with drive-thru; Tailgaters sports bar opens in Frisco and more DFW-area news

Read the latest business and community news from the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

The Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce has rebranded with a new logo and website. (Courtesy Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce)
Fort Worth chamber rebranding represents 'future of Fort Worth business community'

The Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce in January launched a new brand for the organization.