How a Central Texas nonprofit is targeting rural food insecurity

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LEANDER, Texas (KXAN) – For nearly 40 years, Hill Country Community Ministries in Leander has been a go-to for community members struggling with food insecurity and the impacts of food deserts.

When HCCM executive director Tiesa Hollaway joined the nonprofit in 2015, the organization was serving an average of 325 families a month. In the years since, the combination of the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, inflation, and other cost factors has led an average of 2,500 families to seek resources each month.

“We’re seeing more emergencies, we’re seeing more new families — new families, or families that haven’t had to go to the pantry before,” Hollaway said. “And what people don’t realize is that most of the families that come here, it’s transient.”

In transition, Hollaway explained that many families face growing monthly bills and must find alternative income to support themselves and their families. And the impacts of inflation don’t just affect families; Previously, HCCM purchased 29% of its food supply and relied on donations and community partnerships for the rest. Today, HCCM purchases 32% of its food supply.

It was a blow, said Hollaway: Customer demand spiked at the start of the pandemic, then fell to pre-pandemic levels at the start of the year. In March, as gasoline prices and inflation gripped the market, calls also rose again.

HCCM is one of the recipients of the $28 million St. David’s Foundation grant awarded in late August. The nonprofit organization received a $50,000 grant to fund its strategic plan, a document that will outline the organization’s future trajectory.

Hollaway said that as demand levels have increased in recent years, the need for a solid plan for how HCCM will continue to grow and adapt to customer needs is essential. The document will outline the next three to five years of HCCM’s community initiatives.

And these community initiatives continue to grow as HCCM strives to serve the more rural parts of northwest Travis County and Williamson County – areas that face their own unique challenges when it comes to accessing the food. When Hollanday started with HCCM in 2015, the nonprofit had six community programs; now the organization has grown to 24 programs.

One of its most core offerings, said Hollaway, is its mobile food delivery program. With limited transit resources in western Williamson and northwest Travis counties, the program identifies high-need and underserved areas to distribute fresh produce to residents.

Currently, the program’s mobile food distribution truck stops at nine locations in the region. Some of HCCM’s primary target areas include Leander, Liberty Hill, Cedar Park, Lago Vista, Jonestown and Northwest Austin, with resources also available in Granger, Florence and Jarrell.

When discussing food insecurity, Hollaway said the conversation can tend to focus on the needs of Austin’s urban core. But as the cost of living and the impacts of inflation have increased, suburban and rural communities in the metro area are also feeling the brunt of this impact.

“[Leander’s] the population has more than doubled in the last 10 years, our cost of living has more than doubled, but do you have your salaries? Hollaway said, adding, “Not only is transportation an issue, but the cost of living isn’t so cheap in rural areas anymore.” But then you are also dealing with what we call the underserved.

Underserved areas include those where the local food pantry is only open one day a week or during traditional business hours. Many people who use HCCM’s internal community cupboard for services are also employed and cannot afford to take time off work to collect food.

With this latest grant, Hollaway said she envisions HCCM as a “true resource hub” that combines the organization’s pantry work with emergency crisis response, skills training and other resources. community.

“We will become a real resource centre. Not only will we start with the pantry, but we will bring in other agencies to help facilitate, help coordinate aid,” she said. “Just helping our people with other resources that we’ve identified as a great need that we lack on this side of the county.”

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