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Food banks, meal services filling a need more than ever this holiday season

Families across Tarrant County are increasingly getting hit with food insecurity. In some cases, supply chain issues are adding to the problem.

FORT WORTH, Texas — From a distance, it looked like an ordinary food delivery.

But for 97-year-old Amanda McHenry, an elderly woman living in Fort Worth, a daily meal delivery from Meals On Wheels is worth much more.

It’s a warm greeting she looks forward to every day. 

Without the nutritious meals delivered to her door, McHenry, who has arthritis and little income, would struggle to remain living in her home. For seniors like her, a hand-delivered meal is a lifeline.

“It means so much to me, because I feel that they really care,” McHenry said. “We’ve become friends… real friends.”

She’s talking about Meals on Wheels volunteers like Steve Relyea, who has delivered lunch and breakfast to her door year after year. Relyea has volunteered with the non-profit for 33 years.

“I’ve got several elderly in their 90s, and they’re always so sweet. They just remind me of my grandparents,” Relyea explained.

Meals on Wheels serves an average of 3,300 clients across Tarrant County.

The number of meals the non-profit expects to serve in 2022, will be 90% higher than pre-pandemic levels.

Now, they have a problem. With the growing number of people in need, Meals on Wheels is struggling to find enough volunteers to deliver food in some parts of Tarrant County.

Sarah Drew-Watson, vice president of volunteer services with Meals on Wheels, said this year, they’re facing a volunteer shortage ahead of the busy holiday season.

“We’ve definitely seen a rise in the need,” Drew-Watson said. “With volunteers, that’s been an area that’s been pretty hard-hit. It’s just an ongoing need as the older population grows and we’re serving more people.”

It’s not just the elderly in need, families across Tarrant County are increasingly getting hit with food insecurity.

In some cases, supply chain issues are adding to the problem. Over at Tarrant Area Food Bank, leaders are ensuring everyone will have a Thanksgiving meal this holiday. Amid turkey shortages, volunteers are packing meal kits chickens instead of turkeys.

Thursday, Robert Dyer, a resident of Lake Worth, was the first in line for a free thanksgiving meal at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.

“It’s been pretty tough,” Dyer admitted.

With the rising cost of groceries, he said he’s struggling to feed his family this year.

“We appreciate everything, and thank god for Tarrant Area Food Bank. It kept us from going hungry,” Dyer said.

Tarrant Area Food Bank expects to serve nearly 10,000 families during the week leading up to Thanksgiving, distributing 6 million pounds of food. That’s up 20% from 5 million pounds of food during November of 2020.

Julie Butner, president and CEO of Tarrant Area Food Bank, said the organization is committed to making sure families won’t go hungry.

“The line is not getting any shorter. In fact, the line’s getting longer,” Butner said.

She told WFAA various factors are contributing to more need and longer lines at food banks.

“We have this pandemic going on, people who are still unemployed, we have the city that’s growing at the fastest rate ever, and then we have inflation and housing issues that are strapping people in terms of impact,” Butner explained.

For Mary Cade, a Thanksgiving meal recipient, the food assistance gave her a sense of healing after a year of hardship. In 2021, she lost her mom, suffered a health crisis, and lost her job.

She drove away from the distribution event with a big smile on her face.

“This is truly a blessing to me,” Cade said. “I just didn’t know what I was going to do other than to eat a peanut butter sandwich."

She ended up with much more.

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