In the chilly Austin wind Tuesday morning, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn put on clear plastic gloves at the Central Texas Food Bank’s mobile pantry and grabbed a turkey.
“Good morning!” the Texas senator told motorists outside the East Side Church of Christ as he showed his head with food in hand. Cornyn joined food bank staff and volunteers in placing two weeks’ worth of food, including Thanksgiving dinner, from the mobile pantry into the trunks or back seats of vehicles. About 250 families have received food from the site, officials said.
“Being back in Texas makes me very happy — getting out of the swamp in Washington and coming back to talk to real people,” Cornyn told reporters Tuesday morning. “It’s important to remember that not everyone does well.”
Sari Watzke, the food bank’s CEO, said the center is seeing food insecurity reach pandemic levels from COVID-19, including a 30 percent increase in reliance on services. To combat this, officials have added 10 more vacation distribution centers to the service area.
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“The numbers are pretty staggering,” Cornyn said, adding that the “great partnership” between the USDA, Feeding America and food banks like the one in Austin is helping to address the needs of communities. On Tuesday, the food bank distributed about 13,000 pounds of food, Cornyn said.
The senator has volunteered at Texas food banks around Thanksgiving for the past few years, in part to highlight food insecurity and offer solutions. Cornyn said that at a time when the national economy is “crushing” due to high inflation, it’s important that the state’s economy and job creation remain strong to keep Texas a desirable place to live and work.
“The truth is, Texas is still a place people come to because it’s a place where the American dream is still very much alive,” he said. “Because this is the land of opportunity, and it’s really important to keep it that way.”
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“Remember those who struggle”
The Central Texas Food Bank serves about 440,000 people in 21 counties annually, Watske said. Inflation and a higher cost of living are contributing to the rise in food insecurity, according to Cornyn, and economists say the reinstatement of work requirements for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is pushing people into greater need, especially those experiencing homelessness.
The food bank holds about two distribution events a day in central Texas, or sixty a month.
Watske said it’s important for elected officials like Cornyn to get involved and partner with them to get support for a strong federal farm bill — the only law that directly supports food banks, she said.
“As it stands in the current farm bill, there is about $250 million available to buy food. And this year, Feeding America food banks are asking for $500 million to buy TEFAP (Emergency Food Assistance Program) goods,” Watzke told the American-Statesman. “We can’t do it alone.”
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Cornyn encourages people to get involved with the food bank this holiday season by volunteering and donating.
“It’s important at a time like this, when so many of us are enjoying the grace of our great state and our country, that we remember those who are struggling,” he said. “And to support organizations like the Central Texas Food Bank.”