1 in 5 Austinites face food insecurity. Here’s how nonprofits and city leaders are tackling it

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AUSTIN (KXAN) – As an Austin resident for over 40 years, Angela Shelf Medearis has seen a lot of change in the city. Some of the most pronounced are in east Austin, she said, where gentrification has kicked out generations of predominantly black and Hispanic families in favor of business development.

An advocate for lifelong education and author of children’s books, his mission extended to health education when half of his family was diagnosed with diabetes. Drawing on her family’s health complications, she developed The Kitchen Diva Health Outreach, a program that provides health resources, workshops and cooking demonstrations to underserved communities.

“I saw a real need to come up with a culturally based approach to diabetes education,” she said. “And also I saw the need to have a function or a way to bring people together so that they can taste somehow our cultural dishes, but processed in a healthier way.”

Disparities in access to food

The Kitchen Diva Health Outreach is one of 20 Austin-based programs and nonprofits named recipients of the city’s Food Justice Mini-Grants program. The fund aims to address disparities in access to food within the city, with up to $ 3,000 distributed to programs whose work tackles food deserts and inequalities.

The United States Department of Agriculture describes food insecurity as “the limited or uncertain availability of healthy and nutritionally adequate foods or the limited or uncertain ability to acquire acceptable foods in a socially acceptable manner.” In Travis County, city officials said there were significant disparities between different racial and ethnic populations.

City data revealed that more than 18% of Austin’s population is classified as food insecure, or nearly one in five residents lack consistent and stable access to healthy food. . Among Austin-Travis County residents, 11% of black residents and 9% of Hispanic and Latino residents face food insecurity, compared to 5% of Asian residents and 5% of the region’s white population.

WorkingGroup512, one of the named grant recipients, said the funds will help the organization purchase fresh produce, non-perishable and essential foods, as well as meet the food needs of youth and single-parent households facing the crisis. roaming due to the pandemic.

“We will continue to accurately assess the damage, loss and need – to be of service to those who need it most and who are denied food, shelter and healthcare justice,” Founder Chivas Watson said in an email to KXAN. “Food allows us to build trusting relationships in the hearts of households and communities in Austin, fulfill prayers and build capacity by strengthening community. “

“I think the food justice mini-grant program was really meant to get to the heart of a big challenge that all governments face: people with lived experience?

edwin marty, director of food policy, city of austin

Edwin Marty is Food Policy Manager for the Austin Sustainability Office. He said to him that the importance of this program is to collaborate with non-profit organizations that have experience in tackling food insecurity within their communities, providing them with the necessary resources to expand these initiatives.

“If I don’t live in a particular community, if I didn’t grow up in this community, if I don’t speak the language – literally and figuratively – of this community, it’s going to be really difficult for me, especially a white man, to understand the subtle differences between a program that offers a certain type of service and a program that offers a tailor-made service that comes from a community and for that community, ”he said.

Reinventing accessibility

The Austin Office of Sustainability has described four key elements that help define food security:

  • Availability of healthy foods
  • Affordability of fresh produce
  • Awareness of food aid programs
  • Mobility options

The latter is at the heart of Drive A Senior ATX, a nonprofit focused on providing free transportation services for Austin’s homebound senior population. Executive Director Stephanie Lane said the nonprofit has more than 450 customers, 80 of whom receive home pantry delivery services through partnerships with Hope Food Pantry Austin and Micah 6 in Austin.

“We want the elderly who literally built this city, to be able to end the last part of their journey with dignity and to feel like they have a choice of what to eat, as they lose almost all of their choices to their own. care, ”she said.

Gabe Breternitz is a born and raised Austinite. When he launched Good Apple in October 2019, his premise was to create a business model that promoted access to healthy food beyond the geographic and racial barriers that traditionally led to food deserts.

When the pandemic struck in March and unemployment levels skyrocketed, he said food insecurity became all the more prevalent as a problem deprived Austin’s most vulnerable populations of people. access to food.

“Ultimately the idea at the time was with the ‘Stay Home Stay Healthy’ program, we wanted to create a food aid program targeting people who are now food insecure, due to the pandemic, and were also at high risk of hospitalization due to exposure to the virus, ”he said. were old people in the beginning. “

As of March 2020, Good Apple has made more than 30,000 food deliveries as part of its “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” initiative to improve the city’s nutritional resources.

Breternitz said the company’s primary focus has returned to its original prescriptive approach. Through this, he said they had collaborated with health clinics in the region on nutritional counseling and access to resources to help prevent vulnerable populations from developing illnesses or health complications due to poor health. nutrition.

Amid Austin’s growth, Breternitz said his outlook on the city had changed due to his time spent making deliveries and seeing the gaps between different neighborhoods. Her hope is that with increased funding from Good Apple and other grantees, they can help support all communities, one nutritious meal at a time.

“We are all neighbors. I want to eat the same food as you and I want you to have the same access as I do,” he said. “So that’s kind of the whole goal with Good Apple: it’s to make it equal for everyone.”


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