Debunking Six Misconceptions of Hunger Assistance

This September, as part of Hunger Action Month, we are asking the community to join us in the fight against hunger.

An important part of being a hunger warrior is a better understanding of the issues surrounding who experiences hunger, what leads to it and what can be done to address the significant need. The North Texas Food Bank is dedicated not just to getting food in the hands of those who need it, but to erasing the stigma and advancing the conversation around food insecurity.

Unfortunately, a variety of misconceptions persist in this space. In honor of Hunger Action Day on September 10, we gathered NTFB hunger experts to explain the reality behind some of the myths and further education in this important area.

MISCONCEPTION: If you drive a nice car, you must not need food assistance.

Dr. Valerie Hawthorne, Director of Government Relations

TRUTH: “This is a very common misconception, especially as people see lines of cars at food distributions in the media. Automobiles are a necessity – especially when proper public transportation is unavailable – for getting to work, taking kids to school and accessing needed medical care. Most people in an emergency food insecure situation believe their situation will improve in the short term and selling the car that is paid off or close to being paid off creates a future debt for when their circumstances improve. And even if they did consider selling their vehicle, doing so when there is no market for people buying cars is not feasible. Finally, leases have steep penalty payments for early termination, and it represents additional cash a person may not have available.” — Dr. Valerie Hawthorne, NTFB Director of Government Relations

MISCONCEPTION: Government programs provide plenty and people are just looking for handouts.

TRUTH: “The government program SNAP is called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program for a reason – it is not meant to be a full month’s budget of food. In emergency situations and for many Americans, however, it is the only source of food income. We should not shame people who are asking for help. We pay into programs through taxes so that in dire situations those programs can help all of us should we ever need them. Most people would prefer to have the buying power and option to purchase foods they prefer, not be handed food chosen for them and their families in a carline.” — Dr. Valerie Hawthorne, NTFB Director of Government Relations

MISCONCEPTION: Food insecurity can’t exist because so many people are overweight.

Megan Charlot, Nutrition Services Specialist

TRUTH: “Food insecurity and obesity/overweight co-exist in many children and adults all over Texas. Most times, though not always, food insecurity and obesity can be independent consequences of low income (source). Some challenges food insecure and low-income people face, like geographical location (food desert) and/or environmental barriers, can inhibit them from having adequate access to healthy, affordable foods.

Food insecure households can also face several stressors due to the emotional and financial pressures of low income. Continuous high stress has been linked to obesity/overweight in children and adults. In addition, those food insecure people who are eating less and/or skipping meals in order to stretch their food budget tend to overeat when they do have food available, which creates a chronic unhealthy relationship to food and food intake, leading to additional weight gain.” — Megan Charlot, NTFB Nutrition Services Specialist

MISCONCEPTION: People should appreciate any food they can get. You can always get fast food that does not cost much money.

TRUTH: “While you can glean a small amount of nutrients from some fast food, fast food should be a sometimes food and not an everyday food. This includes highly processed food found at the grocery store. Instead, focus on nutrient dense foods across all food groups. Many food banks like NTFB prioritize healthy foods in their distributions and provide nutritional education services that someone might not have access to otherwise. Also, “good food” does not have to be expensive. You can visit MyPlate to learn tips and tricks of how to save money and stretch those food dollars while also choosing healthy items at the grocery store.” — Megan Charlot, NTFB Nutrition Services Specialist

MISCONCEPTION: Only unemployed people need food assistance.

Anne Readhimer, Vice President of Community Impact

TRUTH: “Most of the people we serve have at least one working adult in the household. However, even with a job, many people struggle to get by due to challenges like underemployment, stagnant wages and rising costs of living. According to Feeding America, during the COVID-19 pandemic, about 40 percent of clients nationally are seeking food assistance for the first time, having experienced furloughs, reductions in hours, or unexpected healthcare expenses. Emergencies can happen at any time, forcing people to make difficult decisions such as paying for groceries or making rent or filling prescriptions. Food banks exist to help our neighbors get the food they need while getting back on their feet during challenging times.” — Anne Readhimer, NTFB Vice President of Community Impact

MISCONCEPTION: We already have school meal programs, so families and children should have all the help they need.     

Madison Messinger, Child Programs Administrator

TRUTH: “Schools provide a lot these days—they are not just education centers, but safe havens that offer a variety of community and health services. Free and Reduced-Price Meals go a long way, but they do not keep kids fed outside of the school day. This is why the NTFB Child Programs team partners with campuses to provide additional food assistance via the Food 4 Kids weekend backpack program and the School Pantry Program, which provides supplemental monthly meals for the entire family. Our Team also works hard to educate students and parents on additional NTFB resources like the Partner Agency Feeding Network, SNAP Team, Nutrition Programs, and Mobile Pantries.” — Madison Messinger, NTFB Child Programs Administrator

Caryn Berardi is a Communications Specialist for the North Texas Food Bank.