by Rabbi Nancy Kasten
Hunger is pervasive in Texas, but for the most part, it’s invisible. We don’t have to guess how many Texas households lost power in the most recent ice storm. That number was more than a hundred thousand households. But we still don’t know how many Texans went without food as a result.
We know that schools were shut down, so 3 million children lost access to their school-based free meal programs. Roads were icy and unsafe for professionals and volunteers alike, leaving those who depend on Meals on Wheels and other meal delivery services without their daily food allotment. Did the 36% of Dallas County residents who are food insecure have the resources and time to stock up before the storm hit? It’s likely that some did, and many did not. It’s anybody’s guess as to how many Texas parents and grandparents, who work in jobs that only pay when they work, were set further behind in their struggles to provide for themselves and their families.
We at Faith Commons don’t have all the answers to problems like these, but they all begin with caring: caring about the people behind the numbers, people who are often neglected or overlooked in our current state of state politics.
We have plenty of data about hunger in Texas. No one has to do another study to know that we are failing to adequately address this basic need. Feeding America reports that hungry Texans need $1,651,298,000 more per year to become food secure. In the meantime, food banks, food pantries, community centers, nonprofit and for-profit corporations, religious institutions and schools try to help with voluntary donations of time, talent and treasure. But none of this is enough. The only thing that can truly reverse the tide on hunger in Texas is a change in legislative priorities and a shift to human-centered public policy.
Our Governor and Lieutenant Governor are focused on making Texas hospitable to business, not to the people who work for those businesses. They focus on reducing property taxes for the people fortunate enough to own private homes, while leaving communities with less funding for public services like schools and hospitals. They spend tax dollars suing the federal government for trying to help Texans who need it, rather than developing humane and responsible strategies for addressing human needs in our state.
If our goal is a more sustainable, safer, and healthier life for ourselves and all our neighbors, we need to change what it means to be politically engaged. Getting involved in campaigns is important, but we can’t walk away once the candidates are elected, whether we like them or not. Now is the time to raise your voice and let those entrusted with state-wide offices, as well as your state representative and senator, know what is important to you.
We are in the middle of a legislative session. Decisions will be made on how our tax dollars will be spent. Do you mind paying higher property taxes if that money is used to reduce the number of hungry Texans, rather than increasing that number? What are YOUR priorities for the $27 billion surplus our legislators will spend? If you want them used to strengthen our social safety net, then raise your voice.
It may seem daunting to do this work when there are so many issues to address, and so many ways to address them. But this is nothing new in our country. In 1776 Thomas Paine wrote “These are the times that try men’s souls: the summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.” Almost 250 years later, we are not being asked to fight on a physical battlefield, but rather on a moral one.
We have to keep doing what we can to put food in people’s pantries and refrigerators, so they don’t go hungry today. But we also have to fight for their ability to feed themselves tomorrow. These are the times that try our souls, but redemption comes from fighting for what we know is right. Our strength will come from the peace of mind, the love, and the gratitude we experience as a result.