LEander, Texas (KXAN) – For nearly 40 years, Hill Country Community Ministries in Leander have been an essential component of community members in combating food insecurity and the impacts of food deserts.
When Tiesa Holloway, executive director of HCCM, joined the nonprofit in 2015, the organization was serving an average of 325 families a month. In the years that followed, the combination of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, inflation, and other cost factors caused an average of 2,500 families to search for resources each month.
“We’re seeing more emergencies, we’re seeing more new families — new families or new families who’ve never had to come to the pantry before,” Holloway said. “And what people don’t realize is that for most families that come here, it’s a transitional phase.”
Through the transition, Holloway explained that many families are dealing with increased monthly bills and need to find alternative income to provide food for themselves and their families. And the effects of inflation not only affect families; Previously, HCCM purchased 29% of its food supply and relied on donations and community partnerships for the rest. Now, HCCM buys 32% of its food supply.
It was a two-way punch: Customer demand rose at the start of the pandemic, then dropped to pre-pandemic levels at the start of the year, Holloway said. Come March, gas prices and inflation are taking over the market, so calls are up again.
HCCM is one of the recipients of the $28 million St. Davids Foundation grant in late August. The nonprofit received a $50,000 grant to fund its Strategic Plan, a document that outlines the organization’s future course.
Holloway said that with levels of demand rising in recent years, the need for a robust plan for how HCCM will continue to expand and adapt to customer needs is critical. The document will outline the next three to five years of HCCM’s community initiatives.
These community initiatives continue to grow as HCCM serves the rural parts of Northwest Travis County and Williamson County – areas that face unique challenges in accessing food. When Holloway started with HCCM in 2015, the nonprofit had six community programs; Now, the organization has expanded to include 24 programs.
One of its highlights, Holloway said, is its mobile food distribution program. With limited public transportation resources in West 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 is parked at nine locations within the district. Some of HCCM’s main target areas include Leander, Liberty Hill, Cedar Park, Lago Vista, Jonestown and Northwest Austin, with resources available in Granger, Florence, and Jarrell as well.
When discussing food insecurity, Holloway said the conversation could tend to focus on needs in the urban heart of Austin. But with the rising cost of living and the effects of inflation, suburban and rural communities in the metro area are feeling the weight of this effect as well.
“[Leander’s] The population has doubled in the last 10 years, our cost of living has doubled, but does it pay you? Not only is transportation no longer a problem, Holloway said, the cost of living is no longer cheap in rural areas. But then you also deal with what we call the underprivileged.”
Disadvantaged areas include those where your local food pantry may only open one day a week, or during traditional business hours. Many people who use HCCM’s in-house community locker are also employed for services and cannot afford to take time off from work to collect food.
With this latest grant funding, Holloway said she envisions HCCM as a “true resource center” that combines the organization’s pantry work with emergency crisis response, job training and other community resources.
We will become a true resource center. Not only will we start with the food pantry, we will use other agencies to help facilitate and coordinate assistance.” “Just help our staff with other resources that we have identified as a great need that we are missing in this aspect of the county.”
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