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The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

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BTHO food insecurity

Brazos+Valley+Food+Bank
Photo by Courtesy
Brazos Valley Food Bank

Despite the surface-level perfection Aggieland seems to offer, some of its residents are struggling with a bigger issue.
The Brazos Valley Food Bank, based in Bryan, serves as a regional hub for Brazos, Burleson, Grimes, Madison, Robertson and Washington counties. Program director Shannon Avila said the food bank distributes food to other organizations within the counties which then have the opportunity to provide meals to those in need.
“At the core, we work with partner agencies, and those are other non-profit organizations or church organizations,” Avila said. “In our six-county area, we work with 34 partner agencies, 27 of which are food pantries. The core of food banking are those partner agencies; about 60 percent of the food that goes out to the community from the food bank goes out through those organizations.”
According to a study done in 2014 by Hunger in America, one in five individuals struggle with food insecurity in the Brazos Valley. To ensure people who need food assistance know where to go, Avila said she encourages the community to spread the word about food resources.
“There’s so many ways to get involved,” Avila said. “There’s six pantries in Bryan-College Station, including one on campus, that are always looking for volunteer assistants to help distribute food, or even pack it or sort it. You can always donate as well. Ourselves and all of our partners accept food and funds.”
The 12th Can is a student-run nonprofit organization that serves as an on-campus food bank for current students and staff. Biomedical sciences junior Jeffrey Welch said the organization’s goal is to eliminate food insecurity on campus.
“At the beginning of every semester, we have openings in the fall and spring semesters,” Welch said. “We do food drives and profit shares that anyone in the community can utilize. There are also other food drives and food pantries around College Station that they can take advantage of, for instance, Brazos Valley Food Bank or [the] pocket pantries being set up around campus.”
Welch said 12th Can wants to make students and faculty aware of its purpose. He said he doesn’t want people to be embarrassed to use their services and wants others to know it’s a nonjudgmental resource that everyone is welcome to use.
“The best way, in my opinion, to end food insecurity [is] getting rid of the stigma that’s behind [getting help],” Welch said. “Trying to go out there and get help is always the first step. If people don’t use our services to help themselves, then there’s not really anything that we can do for them.”
With 12th Can’s “Swipe Out Hunger” program, students have the opportunity to donate up to four meal swipes to fellow Aggies who may be struggling toward the end of the semester.
“Before I went to 12th Can, I was extremely privileged, and I didn’t have to think about where my next meal was coming from,” Welch said. “Now that I have had more experience working in the 12th Can, I realize that there are a lot of students on campus who are struggling that day between [buying] textbooks or eating for the next week.”
In an effort to eliminate grocery gaps and food deserts, State Rep. Shawn Thierry, who represents part of Harris County, developed House Bill 209 in previous legislative sessions. Thierry said the goal of the bill is to incentivize businesses to build in communities that do not have enough grocery stores. She said she believes the bill is one of few that targets food insecurity, an issue that was worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Food banks across the state were overstressed and taxed,” Thierry said. “They could not provide food fast enough for the demand. People were out of work, and unemployment takes a toll on that. There’s many pieces to this. Anytime you have legislation that seeks to raise the minimum wage, or provide economic development opportunities in neighborhoods, all of these things make a difference. They increase the opportunity for people to earn a decent livable wage, which is also a factor of food security.”
According to a study by The Food Trust, Texas has the largest “grocery gap” — an area with no access to supermarkets — in the nation. The study found an additional 185 supermarkets could be supported by the Harris County area alone, and up to 589 more grocery stores across the entire state.
“Many times, these grocery stores are built in higher-income communities, where they’re more Anglo; they’re not seeking to build in communities of color,” Thierry said. “There’s a racial disparity aspect to this food insecurity and food desert issue.”
After failing to get it on past session calendars, Thierry said she plans to file the bill again in hopes of getting it approved. She encourages college students to collaborate with the food banks in their area and use the power of social media to spread awareness.
“We know that social media has a huge impact on policy and issues,” Theirry said. “People in college should speak about these issues on their social media platforms to raise awareness. All of that helps me in the Texas Legislature because I am trying to raise awareness of this issue to my colleagues — if [they] would help amplify the issue and amplify [their] voices.”
Avila said she believes to end food insecurity, it’s important to look at the cause and provide others with the resources they need.
“We say in the food banking industry that we’re trying to put ourselves out of business,” Avila said. “We would love for that to happen. It’s not going to happen just with passing out food; it’s going to take more than that.”

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