The lingering recession is pushing a record number of Central Texans to food stamps for the first time. In McLennan County, enrollment has increased 29 percent over the past year and nearly doubled since 2008.
Many of these recipients fall into the "working poor" category where a paycheck just does not cover all of the expenses in a month. Now, they are turning to the government for help.
The aisles at Caritas' food bank in Waco are well-traveled. "Now we're running low," says Executive Director Buddy Edwards, "simply because we have such a high volume of clients."
Edwards says the food bank is overloaded by local folks struggling to put food on the table - even with food stamps. "We're seeing more new families, people who have never been to Caritas before are coming," says Edwards, "on the average of maybe 100 plus a month."
The food bank at Caritas serves some 2,000 families each month. Edwards says these families have been hit hard by the economy. "More and more individuals have lost their employment," he says, "lost their job entirely or had cutbacks in the hours that they can work and they are facing very, very difficult situations."
McLennan County food stamp outreach coordinator Esther Morales has seen food stamp applications surge by 44 percent in two years, with hard-working people facing a difficult time. "A two family income, but still not making enough to provide food for their families," says Morales, "so they're having to apply for federal benefits to have the supplement for their families."
The average family gets $300 a month in benefits, assistance that does not always go far enough for a cash-strapped family. "Many times, depending on the amount of food stamps that a person gets," says Edwards, "they may not be getting quite enough that can actually meet the full needs of their families."
*That is where Caritas comes into play and how you can help. Caritas is an emergency assistance program for anyone in Central Texas - providing food, clothes, furniture, even assistance with bills to families in need.
The strain of more people needing these services, though, has taken its toll on their supplies. Click here to see how you can help them keep services thriving. You can also find them at 300 S. 15th Street in Waco or reach them by phone at (254) 753-4593.
**To locate a food stamp office near you or to find out if you are eligible for benefits, call 2-1-1.
Reported by: Britney Glaser/Photographer: Kristi Sykora