Two local nonprofit groups focused on resolving hunger issues hope sharing space under one roof will foster greater ideas for battling food insecurity in the community.
Caritas of Waco is providing office space for the Waco regional branch of the Texas Hunger Initiative at its headquarters on South 15th Street.
The two organizations work on opposite ends of the mission to tackle hunger. Caritas provides emergency food supplies to clients, while the Baylor University-based Texas Hunger Initiative researches and develops long-term solutions to ending hunger and boosting access to food.
But leaders say working more closely together will allow them to develop more effective strategies to ensure local residents have three nutritious meals a day.
“THI has access to information about what other communities are doing . . . and there may even be opportunities for us to learn more about funding initiatives that can be of assistance to us,” Caritas Executive Director Buddy Edwards said. “They are an outstanding resource to Caritas and the community in leading us forward in trying to resolve hunger and the bigger question of poverty.”
Caritas this spring completed a $1.75 million renovation project that included upgrading the building’s facade, replacing the flooring, remodeling the waiting area and adding more offices for future program use.
At the same time, the Texas Hunger Initiative began creating 12 regional offices around the state in cities like Waco, Houston, Austin and Dallas to brainstorm and implement strategies in their communities.
Edwards offered Caritas’ extra offices as a home for the Waco regional office, and the staff moved into the center this spring.
Edwards said Caritas granted the space free of charge for the first year, with the hunger initiative pitching in for janitorial and upkeep costs and some minor renovations to the office area.
Shamethia Webb, director of the hunger initiative’s Waco office, said being close to residents who are dealing with hunger will be critical to crafting successful methods of reducing food insecurity.
Some of the programs the THI has pioneered include a Breakfast in the Classrooms program that gives all Waco students their first meal in class, as well as an outreach program to create more community sites that help residents apply for state benefits like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
“We do work on a macro level by doing the research and the education piece . . . and by Caritas working on a micro level, it allows us to convene at this interesting intersection where we can kind of look at the issue of hunger from a more holistic point of view,” Webb said. “We won’t be too far in the clouds, but we’re also not in the weeds, so our vantage point is really ideal.”
For example, Webb said her staff created a display board of different ideas to reduce hunger and used it for booths at various community events, encouraging residents to share feedback and offer alternative ideas on sticky notes.
A recurring concern residents have shared is that lack of transportation is a major barrier to being able to shop in grocery stores, forcing some to shop for more expensive and less nutritious food at convenience stores.
Transportation also prevents some families from taking advantage of programs like free Summer Meals programs at Waco school and community sites that would provide free breakfast and lunch for their children.
Some suggested creating a grocery shuttle to take residents to shop at stores like H-E-B and Walmart.
“I’d rather be a mouthpiece for people who don’t often get their voices heard,” Webb said. “We have a document called our ‘Community Input Database,’ where we’ve tried to condense all the information. One, to raise awareness that this is what people are saying, but also it’s a good reminder for me and my staff to go, ‘This is what we’re working for.’ ”
Edwards said Caritas wants to focus on more personalized case management with clients to identify the specific issues causing their food shortages and craft plans to help families work towards self- sufficiency.
“There’s so many things that people in poverty are dealing with that has to be addressed, and it can almost be overwhelming for people,” Edwards said. “It’s a communitywide project. It’s a broad issue that affects us as a community in terms of being able to have access to jobs, the educational component and keeping kids in school. There’s no one solution to it, but I think (it takes) working hand in hand with other organizations.”