Food banks in Texas have gone into disaster mode as they ramp up operations to tackle a surge in hunger after unprecedented freezing conditions disrupted almost every part of the food supply chain in the state.
Grocery stores are empty, school meal programs suspended, and deliveries disrupted by untreated treacherous roads that have left millions of Texans trapped in precarious living conditions with dwindling food supplies.
Even those who did stockpile before the Arctic conditions swept in have lost refrigerated groceries due to lengthy power cuts and cannot cook what food they do have without electricity or gas.
In the worst-affected areas, food banks and pantries were forced to close for several days this week as it was impossible for staff and vehicles to get to the distribution sites. Relief was limited to disaster boxes sent to people seeking refuge in warming shelters.
On Thursday, the disruption to energy and safe water supplies had food banks scrambling to procure large quantities of bottled water and ready meals and snacks that do not require cooking.
“This is a disaster. We are doing rapid needs assessments so we can get appropriate food to those people quickly. When everything thaws, we’re preparing for a massive spike in demand,” said Valerie Hawthorne, director of government relations at the North Texas Food Bank, based in Dallas. “This has been the longest week of all our lives.”
Before the big freeze, this food bank ran two drive-through food distribution sites every day, serving between 300 and 1,500 families at each pop-up location. This week they were all were cancelled, though one is planned for Saturday, leaving thousands of families without enough food or reliant on relatives, neighbors, and mutual aid groups.
In addition to the regulars, advocates expect a rise in low-paid service industry workers – who are often just one or two paychecks away from hunger and will not be paid this week as many restaurants and bars were forced to close.
Hunger was a serious problem in Texas even before the pandemic and the latest weather disaster, with about 4.3 million Texans struggling with hunger in 2019, including one in every five children.
Covid triggered an economic crisis that led to a demand for food aid doubling in many parts of Texas amid record unemployment and underemployment levels.
The extraordinary freeze has once again exposed existing deep inequalities that will make it much harder for low-income households to recover, according to Brian Greene, CEO of the Houston Food Bank. “The aftermath of every disaster is much harder on low-income families, who are going to be in more trouble even after the power and water comes back on,” he said.
Almost two-fifths of Americans do not have enough cash or savings to cope with an unexpected $400 expense such as burst pipes or a collapsed roof, according to research by the Federal Reserve,
In rural Brazoria county, south of Houston, the pantry reopened on Thursday and served 140…