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Texas Leads the Nation in Food Insecurity

Together, we can advocate for improved food access and fight food insecurity for thousands of our neighbors.

May 29, 2024

Summer is right around the corner, which means many North Texas children will lose access to free school meals. During the “hungriest season” of the year, in some communities an estimated 90% of kids are vulnerable to hunger—a statistic that is unacceptable in a region as prosperous as ours. 

This summer, North Texas families face a variety of stubborn challenges that are leading to an uptick in hunger. That’s why at United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, we’re sounding the alarm on childhood hunger. We recognize that access to nutritious food is a key part of health. Regular, healthy meals directly impact our focus areas of education, income and health, enabling children to learn and grow, succeed in school and go on to achieve a stable career. 

Read on to learn more about the factors contributing to childhood hunger in our region, the United Way initiatives that advocate for increases in food access and how you can be part of the change. 

Food Insecurity Is on the Rise in Texas 

In May 2024, Feeding America revealed that Texas has become the most food-insecure state in the country. Between 2020 and 2022, an average of 15.5% of households in our state reported lacking consistent access to healthy and affordable food. 

In North Texas, one in eight people, or 640,000 of our neighbors, face hunger. That figure includes one in five children. In fact, Dallas County has the fourth-highest rate of food-insecure children in the nation. 

Food insecurity and childhood hunger in particular are significant issues that prevent individuals and families from truly thriving. After all, a child who is distracted by hunger is less likely to succeed in school, workers without reliable access to food can’t be at their best, and anyone who frequently experiences food insecurity is more likely to see their physical and even mental health suffer.  

What’s behind the rise in food insecurity? Although a variety of factors come into play, the bottom line is that many families cannot afford regular, nutritious meals.  

The situation is due to systemic challenges, including the following: 

  • Lower wages: Many North Texans don’t earn a living wage, including 74% of young adults. Dallas’ top four most common jobs have a median wage of less than $40,500. 
  • Growing expenses: Inflation drove the cost of food up by 11% from 2021 to 2022, and while the rate of inflation has leveled off, the price of many goods has remained high. 
  • Housing costs. Rent costs have increased 60% since 2015, causing almost 50% of renters in Dallas to pay more than they can afford in rent. Meanwhile, to purchase the average home in Dallas, a family would need to make a household income of around $135,000. 

Economically vulnerable households in North Texans often must choose between paying the rent or mortgage and paying for medications, buying gas to get to work, purchasing high-quality, nutritious food and countless other priorities. For many of our neighbors, this impossible situation often forces them to skip meals or choose high-calorie, low-quality food, like that available at fast-food restaurants.  

Texas Passed Up Federal Funding to Feed Low-Income Kids 

To make matters worse, the Texas Health and Human Services Commission recently declined $450 million in federal money to provide food for low-income Texas children this summer. The funding would have enabled economically vulnerable parents to buy groceries for their kids while free school meals are unavailable due to the summer break. If the state had approved the funding, qualifying families would have received $120 per child through a pre-loaded card. 

By passing on the federal tax dollars, Texas turned down an estimated $450 million that would have helped families in our state avoid food insecurity. 

Officials at the Texas Health and Human Services Commission reported limited capacity and resources to get the program up and running before the summer. These restrictions will leave more children vulnerable to food insecurity this summer—particularly in school districts where nine out of 10 students qualify for free lunch programs. During the summer months, children become much more likely to miss meals or get stuck with less nutritious options. 

Take 2 Minutes to Advocate for Expanded Food Access 

United Way is committed to ensuring all North Texas children and families have access to nutritious food—and we believe our leaders should share that commitment. 

Every five years, Congress has the chance to pass a strong Farm Bill that invests in critical federal programs that help individuals and families keep food on the table. That includes SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which helps ease the strain and stress of hunger in North Texas communities.  

Tell your elected officials that you support protecting and strengthening SNAP. Click here to send an email to legislators. It only takes a few minutes! 

Together, We Can End Childhood Hunger in North Texas 

At United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, our focus areas—education, income and health—are inextricably linked to food security. That’s why we address the root causes of hunger and advocate for improved food accessibility as we drive progress toward our Aspire United 2030 goals.  

We lead and invest in innovative programs that support communities and families and address systemic challenges like food insecurity. For example, this month we hosted a Food Access Summit, which brought together national and local leaders from the nonprofit, corporate, government and retail sectors to discuss strategies for driving innovation and scalable solutions to food access challenges. Click here to learn more about the summit and view the video recap. 

In addition to initiatives like the Food Access Summit, we partner with dozens of local school districts, nonprofits and other community-based entities to provide nutritious food to hard-working families throughout the year. 

Through Southern Dallas Thrives, United Way and our partners expand food access in this historically underserved area of our region. By tapping organizations from our network of 50 community partners in Southern Dallas, last year we distributed 180,000+ pounds of food dispersed to southern sector families and community-based organizations. This initiative includes supplying local pantries, schools and markets; hosting community-based grocery pop-ups; and delivering nutritious meals directly to residents. 

Meanwhile, the North Texas Summer & Supper Council (NTXSSC) is our longest running and most impactful hunger advocacy program. Created in partnership with Baylor University Collaborative on Hunger and Poverty, the council supports summer meals programs as they provide millions of meals and supplemental programming to local children when school is out. These programs are run by local school districts, such as Dallas and Garland ISDs, and local nonprofit organizations such as North Texas Food Bank and Equal Heart. 

Over the last four years, the pandemic and rising food costs have pushed the demand for summer meals to unprecedented levels, and NTXSSC and our partners have continued to step up. In 2022, our meal provider partners served a record 56 million meals to North Texas children within Dallas and Collin counties alone.  

Importantly, these summer meals programs also deliver supplemental educational and physical enrichment programs to keep scholars engaged and active. Across approximately 50 program sites throughout North Texas, our partners provide fun activities aimed at preventing learning loss when school is not in session. With activities such as arts and crafts, educational games, physical activities and STEM tutoring, children get to have a little summer fun without the stress and uncertainty that comes with food accessibility challenges. 

Supporting Children in Every Area of Life 

Collaborating to increase food accessibility is just one of the many ways we support young North Texans, both during the summer and throughout the year.  

At United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, we create and invest in a variety of programs that support children’s educational attainment, overall health and even their future work prospects. In addition to our work supporting summer meals programs, here are just a few of our programs and partnerships that ensure kids can thrive: 

  • Digital Bridges, a partnership with AT&T that addresses the digital divide and brings greater equity to the digital technology space. The program, which is part of our Southern Dallas Thrives initiative, has distributed thousands of laptops and hot spots to students and young adults across various communities with limited technology access, providing opportunities to stay connected and expand learning. 
  • Dollars for College, a partnership with Communities Foundation of Texas that seeds college savings accounts for low-income students, putting them on a path to attend and graduate college. Children with at least some college savings are three times more likely to attend college and four times more likely to graduate. In our last fiscal year, parents opened 992 new savings accounts through Dollars for College and, with community support, made $343,737 in deposits. 
  • Once Upon a Month™, which delivers free age-appropriate children’s books to families every month, encouraging early literacy by stimulating curiosity, language development and learning skills. In our last fiscal year, 11,276 children received books from Once Upon a Month and 94% of parents read more to their children thanks to the program. And thanks to support from The Boone Family Foundation, we’re moving closer to our goal of distributing 1 million books by 2027. 


Together, We Can Support Children Throughout the Summer 

When we come together, we can ensure all children get the support they need in every area of life. This includes keeping them well-fed, providing families with fun educational resources to keep kids’ minds engaged and setting them up for success after they finish school.  

We invite you to be part of this important work by investing in United Way. A gift of any amount makes a meaningful impact in our community: 

  • $25 can support the North Texas Summer & Supper Council, enabling summer meal sponsors to increase their impact in local communities. 
  • $36 could provide a child with 12 books a year through Once Upon a Month, preparing them for school and early reading. Students who read on grade level by third grade are five times more likely to graduate ready for success in college or career 
  • $45 can ensure every student goes back to school with the supplies they need to succeed, including school uniforms.  
  • $50 could seed a child’s college savings account through Dollars for College, which can grow to nearly $500 by high school graduation. 

Click here to make a one-time or monthly donation today. 

Together, we can ensure every child has the access and opportunity to thrive this summer and throughout the year. 

To enroll your child in a free summer meal program, call 211 or text the word “FOOD” or “COMIDA” to 304-304.


Invest in Local Children

An investment in United Way ensures local children have access to nutritious meals, early education materials, health resources and more so they can thrive all summer long.