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Adaptability Key To Helping Fight Food Insecurity In West Texas During Pandemic

Sarah Vasquez
Sarah Vasquez for Marfa Public Radio
The West Texas Food Bank saw a significant increase in demand for food assistance across West Texas during the pandemic.

Food insecurity has been a nationwide issue before the pandemic began and was only exacerbated by the many precautions necessary to avoid the spread of COVID-19. 

But in rural areas, food insecurity became much worse; more than doubling in places like West Texas, according to West Texas Food Bank CEO, Libby Campbell. 

Marfa Public Radio spoke with Campbell about food insecurity, and how the food bank is learning to adapt to keep up with growing demand.

Interview highlights

The impact the pandemic has had on food insecurity

“In the food banking world, you know, we measure everything by pounds,” Campbell said, “We cover 19 counties, which is about 34,000 square miles in West Texas. Pre-pandemic, we finished the year with 6.8 million [pounds of food distributed]. So now, we finished our fiscal year, this year at the end of September, and we finished at 11.8 million pounds that had been distributed. So we've more than doubled, really, since the pandemic.”

Campbell says the face of hunger itself in West Texas has also changed as the pandemic continues and issues like supply chain disruptions and inflation make food more expensive, and scarce in some places.

“Now what we're seeing is, lots of different factors have increased the need of our clients that we're serving,” said Campbell, “There are a lot of people who actually have jobs. People are able to go to work, they are back to work, but they can't keep up with the cost of inflation.

How food banks have had to adapt

With the increase in need in the region, Campbell says the food bank has had to adapt. Starting with the way they distribute food.

“We've gone from having food pantries where people can come in, and basically shop; to now we can drive through, and lines with more of a box system,” Campbell said, “We have added and more than tripled the amount of mobile distributions that we do. So you'll see us pull up in the parking lot with trucks and distribute food. 

Campbell points to Presidio as an example of how her team has adapted during the pandemic. ”We bring in a couple of 18 wheelers and a couple of box trucks and a bunch of staff and kind of set up in a parking lot on the side of the road,” Campbell said “So we've definitely had to become more mobile, and being able to be pretty flexible about where we distribute and how we distribute.”

On other challenges facing West Texas food banks

Campbell says adapting to help curb the spread of COVID-19 hasn’t been the only hurdle associated with the pandemic that the food bank has had to overcome. She says being able to find items, and the transportation logistics has also been challenging.

“We're purchasing more food now than we’ve ever had,” she says, “The cost, just like you guys see the costs on at the grocery store, we are also seeing this huge cost when we're buying in bulk. Basically the food bank grocery bill is going up.”

She says as the world heads into the third year of the pandemic, the core mission of the food bank has, and will always remain the same: provide as much stability as possible to communities that rely on the food bank. 

Bárbara Anguiano was a Morning Edition Host and reporter at Marfa Public Radio from 2021 to 2022.