Help feed children by participating

By Craig Nash

If I take my child to a summer meal site will we be taking food away from the kids who need the meals?

I get this question often around this time of year as parents look for ways to adapt their food budgets to account for children being out of school this summer. And the question is likely even more prescient now as families navigate new realities created by an economic downturn and mass unemployment.

The short answer to this question is, “No.”

The slightly longer and often surprising answer is, “No. And, in fact, taking your child to participate in the program is actually the easiest and most sustainable way to ensure that ‘the kids who need the meals’ can continue to receive them.”

The Summer Food Service Program is a publicly funded initiative of the United States Department of Agriculture and is managed by state agencies, in our case the Texas Department of Agriculture. And most importantly, with regards to the question at hand, it is a reimbursable nutrition program, which means school districts and other nonprofits who operate the program receive anywhere from 97 cents to around $4 for every meal they serve, depending on what meal is being served and other qualifying factors. This reimbursement funds all aspects of the program such as food, labor, transportation, and paperwork.

As you might imagine, providers of these meals often operate on razor thin margins to keep the program going. Economies of scale mean that low participation makes operating the program more difficult, while high participation gives school districts and other organizations that operate the program more room to breathe. Meal sites that dip below a certain amount of kids participating each day are often at risk of closing down as the summer progresses, which leads to families who benefit the most from these programs struggling to stretch their rapidly diminishing food budgets.

But let’s step aside from the mechanics of the program and talk, instead, about some assumptions in the original question that we would be well served to clear up. The first is that we are operating out of scarcity, rather than abundance. This scarcity mentality is widespread, and understandable during the difficult times we find ourselves in. But it is a false assumption. There is more than enough food in our country to feed every person living here three meals a day, even in harsh economic times.

On top of that, our economy operates under the principle that resources EXPAND, not diminish, as they are moved around. Every dollar that flows into the local economy to help feed someone has a rate of return that puts even the most successful investment portfolio to shame. Food service workers, delivery drivers, farmers, and untold others receive a boost from these programs. The rising tide lifts a lot of ships.

The other assumption that should be recalibrated is the idea that there are kids in our community that need the food and there are others that don’t. This creates an unnecessary stigma around public child nutrition programs that sends subtle, psychological messages to kids who participate in summer meals. If we could work as a community to eliminate this stigma by treating these programs the way we treat public education, roads, sanitation services, etc., like they are services that we all contribute to and all take part in, then unnecessary barriers to nutrition like shame and stigma can be eliminated.

So if you have kids and are able to take them to one of the many lunch sites around town this summer, you not only will be helping to stretch your budget, you’ll ensure that a program for all kids will remain viable for as long as possible. An interactive map to locate the nearest meal site can be found here: .

Help us keep these sites stustainable for all kids throughout the summer!

Reprinted with permission from the Texas Hunger Iniative’s webpage, Heart of Texas Meals.

Craig Nash is regional manager for child hunger outreach at Baylor’s Texas Hunger Initiative. He enjoys talking and writing about Waco, country music, and faith. He blogs at

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email for more information.

State hospitals, living centers create pen pal programs during COVID-19 pandemic

NEWS RELEASE from Texas Health and Human Services Commission

AUSTIN – State-supported living centers and state hospitals across Texas are using pen pal programs to help their residents and patients stay connected with their communities during the pandemic.

“As part of our dedication to provide the best care possible at state hospitals and state supported living centers, our staff has developed unique ways to help residents and patients cope with feelings of isolation caused by the pandemic,” said Mike Maples, HHS deputy executive commissioner for the Health and Specialty Care System. “With the newly created pen pal programs, people receiving care in our facilities have been able to maintain social interactions with volunteers.”

Residents of living centers include people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and patients of state hospitals include people with mental health issues. Socialization is an important part of maintaining good mental health. Due to COVID-19, group activities, communal dining and visits with relatives and volunteers have been limited to prevent the spread of the virus.

Pen pal programs at several state hospitals and state supported living centers allow members of the community to send encouraging letters and cards to residents and patients. Volunteers can send positive messages, drawings, or stories about what they are doing for fun. Volunteers throughout Texas have already sent more than 900 cards and letters, and some have received responses as part of the program, which facility staff help to coordinate.

People who are interested in volunteering can fill out a volunteer application here. For information about how to join the pen pal program, e-mail to learn about the participating facilities which include Austin State Hospital, Austin State Supported Living Center, Richmond State Supported Living Center and San Antonio State Hospital.

About State Hospitals and State Supported Living Centers
Texas Health and Human Services operates 10 state hospitals and 13 state supported living centers in Texas. State hospitals provide inpatient psychiatric care to adults, children and adolescents. State supported living centers provide residential treatment and training services to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities who are medically fragile or who have behavioral issues.

Steps to take to slow the COVID-19 spread


Over the past two weeks, McLennan County has seen a rapid increase in number of COVID-19 cases. As Texas continues to reopen, it is important to remember that COVID-19 has not been contained.  The virus is still circulating in our community. As more people are going back to regular routines, the opportunity for exposure to COVID-19 increases.  

There are five clusters involving households.  If there is a COVID-19 positive person in your home, there are steps you can take to minimize the risk of exposure to the rest of the people in the home.

  • The sick person should not leave the house.  Have a someone else run errands for the sick person.
  • As much as possible, have the sick person stay in a specific room and away from other people and pets in the home.  This includes all actives including eating meals or watching TV together.
  • Assign one person to take care of the sick person.  This person should maintain a 6 ft distance when possible, wear a cloth face covering and wash their hands after each interaction with the sick person.  
  • If possible, the sick person should use a separate bathroom.  It that is not possible, keep the sick person’s personal items, like a toothbrush and towels separate and disinfect high touch areas after every use.
  • If the sick person needs to be around other people or animals, they should wear a cloth face covering.

COVID-19 is a virus that is spread person-to-person through respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks.  It is also possible that the virus can spread by touching surfaces or objects that have the virus on it and then touching the eyes, nose, and mouth. The best way to protect yourself from COVID-19 is to continue to follow the tried and true methods of social distancing. These simple steps can significantly influence the rate of increase in McLennan County.

The Executive Order issued by Waco Mayor Kyle Deaver on June 19, 2020 is an important measure to slow the spread of COVID-19 by requiring all employees and visitors of a business to wear face coverings. This simple step along with the other social distancing guidelines are the best protection we have against COVID-19.  By following them, you protect yourself and your community.

Social Distancing guidelines:

  • Keep 6 feet apart from others.  Respiratory droplets generally can travel 6 feet in the air. The closer you are to a person the easier it is for the droplets to reach you.
  • Wear a face covering to lessen the spread of respiratory droplets when you speak.  The face covering creates a barrier that stops the droplets before they spread to another person.  Your face covering protects the people around you.
  • Washing your hands.  If you have the droplets on you hand and you touch your face, you are putting the virus into your body.  Washing your hands frequently removes the virus from your body.  
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces. Keep surfaces like door handles and counters clean to stop contamination by the virus.

Recursos y materiales sobre el COVID-19 / Resources and materials about COVID-19

Compiled by Karol Hardin, Associate Professor of Spanish, Baylor University