Beaumont Foundation leads fight against hunger in East Texas

Brown family

Hunger is a silent epidemic that affects the lives of more than 50 million Americans every day and can cause mental and physical problems, impact academic achievement and even hamper economic productivity. But through the efforts of the East Texas Food Bank, supported by both large donors like the Beaumont Foundation of America and the contributions of individuals, no one needs to starve.

Unlike other countries across the world, hunger in the United States is not due to scarcity of food, but is mainly associated with poverty alone. It’s more common among African Americans, Latin Americans and low to middle-income families. In fact, according to Feeding America — the nation’s leading domestic hunger-relief charity — one of the most common misconceptions about hunger is the assumption that people who are starving do not have a job and are living on the streets. What most people don’t understand is that anyone can experience hunger.

According to the US Census Bureau, in 2010, 21 million people lived in working-poor families, translating to nearly 9.6 percent of all American families. In fact, 36 percent of client households served by the Feeding America network have one or more adults working, according to the 2010 article, “Hunger in America.”

In Texas alone, there are more than 4.7 million food insecure people, according to Feeding America statistics.

One East Texas family knows all too well how hunger can affect their everyday lives.

The Brown family of Whitehouse, a small town just outside of Tyler with a little more than 7,000 people, like many Americans rely on a double income to make ends meet.

But when wife Barbie Brown, 33, broke her leg, the couple and their three children were forced to rely solely on husband Adam Brown’s income as a high school history teacher.

“We were basically living from paycheck to paycheck like most families,” 34-year-old Adam Brown told the Examiner.

Barbie, who is an aerobics instructor at Whitehouse YMCA, broke her leg after falling off of a bounce house onto a cheerleading mat in 2009, her husband said.

“We had depended on her income to make gas and groceries,” Adam Brown said. “We were good on the bills but fell short there.”

Without the double income, the family was forced to choose between paying the bills and buying groceries.

“We decided at that point to put our faith in God,” Adam Brown said. “So we started using the church food pantry. It saved our necks for a long period of time before she was able to work again.”

It was nearly a year until Barbie would return to work. In the meantime, the East Texas Food Bank (ETFB) provided much needed relief for the family.

In 2014, ETFB distributed 20.2 million meals, working with 154 food pantries and 35 soup kitchens or onsite feeding programs. The nonprofit also partners with 115 after school programs, school districts, churches and civic organizations to ensure children and seniors receive nutritious foods when other programs are not available.

“We serve 26 counties here in East Texas,” said Dennis Cullinane, CEO of ETFB, adding that the rural demographic increases the difficulty of reaching families in need. “We distribute the food through pantries and agencies across the 26 counties. Our service area is almost a quarter of million people that are food insecure. Out of a population of about 1.2 million, it’s a significant part. Our challenge is to provide for them when they need it.”

Meeting the challenge is tough but possible thanks to the support of concerned organizations like the Beaumont Foundation of America, a nonprofit grant-making institution dedicated to enriching the lives and enhancing the futures of less fortunate children and youth, families and the elderly. In 2013 alone, the Beaumont Foundation donated $1.19 million to food banks across Texas, including Beaumont’s own Southeast Texas Food Bank and its sister food bank, the East Texas Food Bank, based in Tyler.

“The Beaumont Foundation, through its chairman Wayne Reaud, supports food banks across Texas, and has donated $9,305,000 to date,” said Carol Eddins, director of grants for the Beaumont Foundation of America. “We are especially pleased to support the East Texas Food Bank. We have contributed a total of $320,000 to the East Texas Food Bank alone. We are steadfastly committed to helping the East Texas Food Bank accomplish their vision … to eliminate hunger in East Texas.”

Part of that vision includes a matching pool, which the Beaumont Foundation took a lead role in.

“This is the first time we have done a match,” said Jennifer Yoder, development director for the ETFB. “We had three donors that formed a matching pool — the Beaumont Foundation, Advanced Temporaries and John Soules Food.”

Yoder said the pool raised $70,000 for the ETFB, with the Beaumont Foundation donating $50,000 alone for the initiative.”

Why is supporting the East Texas Food Bank and other food banks across Texas so important to the Beaumont Foundation?

“It is of utmost importance because it affects everyone from children to seniors,” Eddins said. “It is an issue that all Texans should be addressing. It is a very important issue to Mr. (Wayne) Reaud that we face hunger head on in Texas.”

The Beaumont Foundation donates to 22 food banks throughout Texas including ETFB and has given more than 1 million to these food banks so far in 2014.

The ETFB match initiative received an encouraging response, Yoder said, with ETFB utilizing the great example provided by the Beaumont Foundation and other donors to challenge the public through direct mail pieces to match the $70,000 the donors raised. The public not only met the match but also exceeded it, she said.

“We solicited over 27,000 current donors,” Yoder said. “We anticipate that by the end of August we will raise more than $100,000 (through the direct mail initiative). Everyone is so excited about the response.”

“Donors are continuing to send in,” Cullinane added. “We’re just so grateful that the Beaumont Foundation was able to be the lead on that. They have been extremely passionate and generous to not only the East Texas Food Bank but to a lot of food banks across the state. We are blessed to have a donor — a true partner — that understands the issues and has the wherewithal to help fight this problem.”

But, Eddins reminds, the time to celebrate is short-lived.

“It’s a good thing, but it doesn’t mean that all the people are fed,” she said, citing the summer months as a troubling example of how hunger affects the most precious among us — the children. “In the summer time in particular when there are no feeding programs in the schools, there are a lot of kids that are hungry.”

Because many children who participate in school breakfast and lunch programs are at risk of going hungry during the summer, ETFB and Texas food banks utilize summer feeding programs to combat the issue.

“People are hungry all year long,”Cullinane said, explaining that even though schools are out and people are on vacation, the hunger problem remains for millions of Texans. “Typically summer is a lull period for us as far as fundraising. We’ve got a couple of programs running in the summer that are very expensive to sustain. That’s why the (match initiative) was so timely for us.”

ETFB’s summer food program serves free lunches and breakfasts to children in low-income neighborhoods. In summer 2013, the ETFB served more than 100,000 meals at 60 sites across East Texas. The food bank also is preparing for the school year with its BackPack Program, which provides nutritious meals to low-income children who participate in school meal programs but face hunger on the weekends, and the Kids Café program, which serves meals and snacks to at-risk children during after school hours. ETFB also provides meals to seniors through its Box Program, which provides a free box of nutritious food to 1,900 people each month in identified communities within ETFB’s service area — addressing the needs of seniors who may have little or no access to food assistance and are most likely living off of a fixed income.

Now that Barbie has returned to work, she and her husband Adam have decided to give back to those who provided them help when they needed it the most.

“Once we were back on our feet … we started feeling the need to give to a local food bank,” Adam Brown explained. “The Lord looked out for us, and we never starved. That was because of the food bank. We started donating monthly to the Philadelphia Blessing, a Whitehouse food bank. They are supported by the East Texas Food Bank. We know what the food bank did for us, and we wanted to give back.”

The Brown family’s story serves as a reminder that is important for everyone to join the fight against hunger — this is the only way the epidemic can be defeated.

For more information on how you can help combat hunger, visit feedingamerica.org

The Beaumont Foundation was created in 2001 and provides grants and scholarships to a broad range of charitable, religious and educational organizations across the United States, according to the non-profit’s website, supporting organizations that seek to improve lives by giving people the tools to become educated, healthy, and self-reliant through the grantmaking areas of education, health care, children and youth programs, social services (food, shelter and clothing) and the Children of Fallen Heroes Program.

For more information, visit bmtfoundation.com.

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