Unemployment Shrinks In 2012, But Hunger Grows

Houston Food Bank volunteers line up early in the morning at the warehouse location in Northeast Houston. Since the recession, the Houston Food Bank says they've begun working with an additional 140 pantries around the city. Photos by Gerald Rich.
Even with the Houston economy improving, those serving people in need of food assistance say the demand for food aid has been increasing.

On the warehouse floor of the Houston Food Bank, in northeast Houston, forklifts are moving boxes of food with things like bananas and plastic bottles of spicy trail mix. It's from this warehouse that food gets delivered to agencies in an 18 county area.

Brian Greene is the president of the Houston Food Bank. He says the majority of those getting aid have at least one person working in the family.

"It's the stagnant wages. It's the reduction of some benefits. It's the increase in part-time work. That's really hitting people hard who are working but are having a hard time making enough money to make ends meet."

Greene says since 2008, near the beginning of the great recession, they've doubled their food distribution and added 140 new partner agencies.

One relatively new food pantry is ECHOS, located on Bissonnet and South Gessner. It first opened to temporarily serve Katrina evacuees and it's stayed open since. Jill Anthony volunteers at the pantry.

"We've served refugee populations. We have many Hispanic people here. We have African-Americans, and surprisingly a large elderly Asian population."

Anthony says the need is constant, and growing. A new KUHF interactive map, using recently-released census data, shows the greatest number of Houstonians living below the poverty line is located in Southwest Houston, near Sharpstown and Gulfton. You can see that map below.

And the biggest concentration of food agencies partnering with the Food Bank is in Kashmere Gardens, where places like Target Hunger give peanut butter and fresh cabbages to people walking in.

Alma Shelton, checks in people when they first come in for assistance. She says one person, who came earlier this year, sticks out. She says he had a corporate job, was unemployed for awhile, and paying bills became more and more difficult.

"It was really kind of sad, because he had never, never ever had to ask for help for anything, and he felt really bad and down about that."

Shelton says Target Hunger services more than a dozen pantries in the Northeast Houston area.  One of them is in Denver Harbor, where Martha Cavazos is a pantry coordinator.  Cavazos says about half the people that come in have work, and the other half are unemployed.

"I know that a lot of people who don't have the right education today… are told you have to go get your GED. Well guess what? You have to pay for that in some areas."

Cavazos says need at her pantry has doubled since last year.  In May this year, they helped 600 families.  This November it rose to more than 800.


Click the image below to view a full screen version of the interactive KUHF map.

 

Click for an interactive map