Food insecurity problem is troubling

Did you know 1 in 6 adults in our 12-county area are food insecure?

For kids, it is 1 in 4.  This number iKara Nickens 2016 headshots troubling to me.

My name is Kara Nickens and I am the new CEO for the Wichita Falls Area Food Bank.  I am a native of Quanah and have lived in Wichita Falls since 1989, moving to Lakeside City in 2006.  I graduated from Midwestern State University with a degree in Business Administration.

I’ve spent the last 20-plus years working with individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. I enjoyed a very rewarding career advocating for individuals who often just needed someone to care and speak up for them.  However, to challenge myself and enrich my service to the community I decided it was time to choose a new career path.

As I started my new journey I took some classes at The Nonprofit Center of Texoma and decided I wanted to focus my energy on working with a nonprofit.  Then I began learning more about the mission and good works of the Food Bank.  I am honored and humbled that the board of  directors chose me to serve as their CEO.

I was raised by my grandmother and although times could be difficult and trying for her, we were blessed to never have to worry about having food on the table or a roof over our heads.  She worked as a laundress at a nursing home for near minimum wage most of her life, retiring at close to 80 years old.  Through her example, she instilled in me the need for a strong work ethic.  She always put others needs in front of her own and gained her joy from sharing with others.

My grandmother always made sure my basic needs were met, and I have been blessed by many special people in my life who ensured I stayed on the right path and pursued my education.  If others had not stepped in to ensure I felt their love and support I might have fallen through the cracks and my life journey could have been much different.  Knowing the difference others have made in my life, it is my turn to give back.

Since starting with the food bank I have witnessed grateful parents and grandparents receive nutritious food boxes and fresh vegetables at a local school. The families rely on these boxes to supplement their food supply at home.  Many can’t afford the “luxury” of vegetables some of us often take for granted. I’ve assisted with sorting and packing items for the school Back Pack Program for kids who otherwise might not have anything to eat over the weekend.  They receive a 2-pound bag of food on Fridays to take home. I have observed kids receiving a hot meal after school through our Kids Cafe Program because they might not have a meal in the evening when they get home. I’ve witnessed selfless volunteers come to the Food Bank to assist with carrying out our mission, whether it is to donate or work in the warehouse assisting with many functions including sorting and packaging food orders.  I’ve also had the pleasure of meeting some of our over 200 Partner Agencies, working diligently to ensure people struggling with food security receive food.

I would like to thank the community for supporting the Food Bank over the years.  Without you we would not be able to continue fighting for our vision of hunger-free communities.  I am excited about this opportunity and encourage you to continue alongside me as I make a conscientious effort to ensure no child or adult goes to bed hungry.


SNAP Challenge
02.20.17 – 03:07 pm

My family spent the last week living on the average food stamp (aka SNAP) budget, $4.20 per person per day. For us, that total bu
dget was $68.60. Our goal for the week was two-fold. We wanted to see if it was possible to eat healthy on this budget, as has been proposed in our current legislature, and we wanted to bring awareness to what it’s like for families served by River Valley Food 4 Kids.

To say that the week was challenging would be an understatement.

When shopping we tried to buy mostly healthy foods. We had chicken, ground turkey, potatoes, milk, oatmeal, apples, canned veggies, sandwich supplies, a dozen eggs and a few other various items. At the beginning of the week I thought I had done a great job shopping and that it might be possible to eat a fairly healthy diet. I learned pretty quickly that I was wrong.

There are a lot of points that I would like to cover but for the sake of brevity I’m only going to touch on a few. Please check out other posts and videos on our Facebook page ( to learn more about the issues we faced throughout the week. Here are the big lessons we learned:

Eating healthy is subjective.

Many people told me we should be eating cornbread and beans or rice instead of trying to incorporate fruits, meat, and veggies.

The problem with that is that not having sufficient variety in our food is harmful to long term health, especially for growing children. Personally I think all people should be able to eat a basically healthy diet. I’m not talking about extravagant healthy. I’m talking food pyramid healthy.

There is no room for mistakes or changes.

Both of our kids were home sick for three days during the week. If we had truly been on a SNAP budget this would have been catastrophic. We would have had NOTHING to eat for last couple of days.

Needless to say we let our kids eat food that we had on hand rather than strictly eat the food for the challenge.

Being hungry makes everything harder.

We spent the entire week just a little hungry. We never ate enough to get totally full because we were so worried about running out at the end of the week.

That constant level of hunger caused so much stress. I was much more frazzled and unable to concentrate as well. I made a lot of mistakes and left my keys behind at least three times. I couldn’t imagine sitting in a classroom trying to learn. When our kids are going to school hungry they are not able to learn as well as their peers, causing them to make lower grades and have increased behavior issues. This just continues the cycle of poverty creating another generation of children living with food insecurity.

Emergency Assistance Programs are vital.

That is what food pantries are officially called — emergency assistance. For many families they are not emergency assistance.

They are a regular part of getting by. Programs like this are almost entirely funded by donations from their community. For the typical pantry that sends food home, there is no government funding available and grants are few and far between. This is why programs like River Valley Food 4 Kids are continually seeking support from the community.

Those are the highlights I wanted to cover. This week renewed my dedication to serving children in our community. I would encourage everyone to spend a week living on the SNAP budget, especially anyone who is working to influence how that program operates. It will challenge your preconceived notions about hunger and poverty.

Hopefully it will also make you more empathetic towards members of our community that are often judged harshly. I know it has changed my family for the better.

© 2017 republished with permission from Kristin Foster

Food Insecurity and Lack of Transportation

by Peggy Browning, AmeriCorps VISTA for the Wichita Falls Area Food Bank

Occasionally… late at night…I get the urge for a sweet midnight snack…like the individual key lime pie slices at United Market Street. Unless I can talk myself out of it, I will put on shoes and a jacket and drive to the grocery store.

The only thing that stops me from buying a slice is if Market Street has no pie. I am not stopped by lack of transportation.

Other times, I make a planned visit to the grocery store. I hop in my car and drive to any store I choose in Wichita Falls. Again, transportation is not a consideration for my shopping.

If I want to buy a large amount of groceries or indulge in a special on fresh peaches, I can do that. As long as I have the funds to pay for it, I can fill my whole car with food and not worry about how I will get it back home.

The act of buying groceries becomes much more complicated when you don’t have a vehicle for ready use.  Lack of access to private transportation limits how often shoppers can go to the grocery store. It influences what you can buy and how much you can buy at one time.

Fresh produce is an important part of a healthy diet; many highly processed foods contain more salt and sugar. Frozen vegetables are healthier choices, but it’s hard to make it home with frozen goods if you are taking a bus that has a one-hour pick-up schedule.

If you can only get a ride with a relative for a shopping trip once a month, you are limited in how much fresh, perishable food you can buy since you won’t be back to the store any time soon and will likely buy more highly processed foods and canned foods that have a longer shelf life.

If you are walking to the store, you are hardly able to buy in bulk to save money. Carrying it home becomes a hindrance.

Public transportation policies limit how many bags a person can carry on the bus. It is harder to stock up on sales and bargain buys when grocery shopping if you make a round trip on the bus.

According to research on food insecurity in the United States, households that have fewer resources will be less likely to have easy access to reliable transportation. Often, families that rely on Supplemental Nutrition programs such as SNAP (formerly known as food stamps) and WIC (Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, & Children) do not have their own vehicles to use for regular food shopping.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture states that “vehicle access is perhaps the most important determinant of whether or not a family can access affordable and nutritious food.” There are many reasons that people struggle with food insecurity in this country, but lack of transportation plays a big role in the problem.

The Wichita Falls Area Food Bank provides food for over 74,000 people each year by supplying pantries in its 12 county service area. Over half of those people, 50.2 %, said they must choose between paying for transportation or food every month.

For More information, call the number below to schedule your spot on the Wichita Falls City Grocery Cart Route (program available for Seniors and those Disabled only)



Life’s Obstacles

By Peggy Browning, the Wichita Falls Area Food Bank AmeriCorps VISTA Health Partnership Organizer

Sheila, 35, believes in going with the flow. It is the flow that brought her to a community food pantry in Young County for assistance.

“It seems like something always comes up,” Sheila said.

Both Sheila and her husband work at jobs in this small town.  But, sometimes, Life happens…and life happenings interrupt the flow with either a flood of problems or a dry spell with limited choices.

A hot water heater goes out…a garage burns down…the economy has a downturn and results in an employee lay-off. It’s all just part of the flow.

Recently, her husband started a new job with an auto service business. He makes $9.50 per hour. It’s a decent-paying job for this community, but more well-paid jobs are limited here.

And as the flow goes, while her husband started a new job, Sheila lost hers. Even with her husband’s job, their finances are still out of balance.  Although she doesn’t have to choose between feeding herself and her children, she said funds are tight.

As Sheila said, it seems like something always comes up.

Sheila is grateful that she can rely on the food pantry during those times when options are limited and money is tight. She and her growing family have relied on it more than once.

“We have used the food pantry off and on for about ten years,” Sheila said. When times are hard and funds are low, she knows she can rely on the food pantry to help them with food. Then she is able to use her money to pay bills and keep the utilities turned on.

Today Sheila has come to the food pantry to receive a box of staple foods: pasta, canned vegetables, shelf-stable milk, dry beans, peanut butter, boxes of cereal, and oatmeal.  When available, meats and fresh vegetables are included in the food box.

She also needed to find winter clothes for her three children, aged 9, 7, and 6.

The kids, as kids are wont to do, have outgrown their winter clothing from last year. Shannon was able to find good, warm clothing for them in their current sizes among the clothing donated to the pantry.

While she waited, Sheila shopped through the pantry’s supply of children’s clothing and chose some clothes to fit her family. She also worked with Pam…the social service person from Wichita Falls Area Food Bank….and applied for food stamps and CHIP.   The provision from the food pantry and food bank will help them get through a rough patch while they wait for approval for food stamps. If food stamps don’t completely cover their food needs, the pantry can help fill the gaps.

Someday she plans to be one of the volunteers who are busy taking care of the needs of the pantry’s clients. She said she wanted to be the person helping, rather than being the person needing help. She believes that one day her circumstances will flow in that direction.

Wichita Falls Area Food Bank Announces New Chief Executive Officer: Kara Nickens


Contact: Michael Stanford, Chairman 940-232-4568 or

Susan Richardson, Chairman Elect 940-781-5570

Wichita Falls Area Food Bank

1230 Midwestern Parkway

Wichita Falls Area Food Bank Announces New Chief Executive Officer

Wichita Falls, TX, 19 Dec 2016 – The Board of Directors of Wichita Falls Area Food Bank has appointed Kara Nickens to lead the organization as CEO.  Kara will begin her new role on Monday, January 16, 2017.  She comes to the Food Bank with extensive leadership experience in business management and community relations. Most recently, Kara led the local non-profit First Step, Inc. as their Executive Director.

“I am excited about the opportunity to serve as the CEO for the Wichita Falls Area Food Bank,” said Ms. Nickens.  “I will utilize my management and leadership skills to continue carrying out our vision of “hunger free communities”.  My focus is to advocate on behalf of food insecure people and to bring awareness for the need of programs and services to help people achieve food security.”

Kara’s deep commitment to the community is shown through her dedication to local organization ARC of Wichita Falls as well as Special Olympics. Prior to her role at First Step, Inc., she was the Executive Director at D&S Community Services for 12 years, ensuring quality services were provided to a diverse group of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Kara received a Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration from Midwestern State University and recently completed the On Board Wichita Falls Training Program at the Nonprofit Center of Texoma.

“The Board of Directors is very pleased that Kara will be leading our organization,” said Michael Stanford, Chairman of the Board of Directors. “We are excited to see the positive impact that Kara’s leadership will undoubtedly have on our cause.”

About the Wichita Falls Area Food Bank

The Wichita Falls Area Food Bank services a 12-county area in North Texas and annually distributes nearly 3.7 million pounds of food through over 200 partner agencies and programs. More information on the Food Bank is available at – Facebook, and


Volunteers make our programs work!

Peggy Browning, AmeriCorps-VISTA Health Partnership Organizer for Wichita Falls Area Food Bank

Every food pantry relies on volunteers to make its program work. Volunteers plan the space needed for their project of distributing food to the community; they provide and ask for funding to buy the food; and they order products from their area food bank.

Volunteers pick up the food order from the food bank distribution point; they sort, stack, and store the food at their pantry; they pack goods into individual parcels for the clients they serve.

Volunteers organize fundraising events; they plan ahead for anticipated community needs; and they keep the food moving from the donated sources into the hands of people in need.

It is difficult to put a dollar value on volunteer time, however government calculations put that dollar amount at $23 per hour per volunteer. That’s a lot of financial value provided by people freely giving their time.

Even if volunteers’ time was valued at minimum wage, non-profit groups and church groups could not afford to hire and pay workers to do the work.  Without volunteers, food pantries would be unable to operate.

Volunteers contribute much more than financial value to the food pantries they serve.  The number of volunteers demonstrates the amount of support an organization has within a community. They provide work for short periods of time and give support to a wide range of projects.

Numbers show us the investment volunteers make to food pantries. But what do food pantries give in return to the volunteers?  Does the investment of time, energy, and caring make a solid return for a volunteer? I recently interviewed some long-time volunteers at the Floral Heights Community Food Pantry in Wichita Falls about how their volunteer involvement is a benefit to them.

Five years ago, Sandy Elmore had health problems that caused her to slow down her busy life. She says she is a person who needs to be busy and being immobile after having a stroke was disheartening. When she recovered enough to get out of the house again, Floral Heights Community Food Pantry made a place for her to work…one that suited her physical abilities at the time. She has returned to a very busy agenda.

Sandy said, “I love the other volunteers, love the clients, and I love being around Christian people who have the same heart for service.”

Mary Horton, 87, and her husband Dewey, 90, have been helping with the food pantry for 20 years now. This is not her first volunteer appointment. Her grandparents and mother were founding charter members of Floral Heights Methodist Church. She grew up in a family that volunteered. When she and Dewey married they were both teaching Sunday school at the church. She has served as the latchkey director, church historian and church librarian.

Jean Arnold, 83, has volunteered since 1980, shortly after the church organized an effort to provide food for the victims of the 1979 tornado. She likes to meet people and is hopeful that “we’re giving them what they need.”

Mary Beth Donart, a member of the Sunday School class with Jean and Mary, started volunteering due to a two-fold desire. “I was retired and needed something to do to get out of the house. I thought I could do something that would help someone else.” Almost twenty years later, she is a steadfast worker at the food pantry.

In 1979, Ira Littrell offered to help whenever the pantry needed help. He was still operating his own business then and worked whenever help was needed. It turned into a regular gig.

Now, at age 95, Ira still volunteers three days each week.

“It keeps me alive. I come three days a week, each day the pantry is open,” he said.  “I would feel even more alive if the pantry was open 5 days a week.”

The impact of volunteers and the time, care, and effort donated to food pantries may be calculated by dollar amounts, but it does not begin to cover the value of the investment made and received by the volunteers from their involvement. That value is priceless.


Volunteer? Mission Accomplished!



Alice McEntee, Clay County Mission Outreach, Henrietta, Texas

written by Peggy Browning, Wichita Falls Area Food Bank AmeriCorps VISTA Health Partnership Coordinator


Every Friday around 10:45 a.m., Alice McEntee stops her tiny Chevy Aveo in front of the Clay County Mission Outreach and pops open the hatchback door.

The volunteers at the food pantry know Alice well. She is one of their most dependable volunteers.

Being over the age of 55, Alice qualifies to receive a bag of food from the pantry each week. She could also take home a bag of fresh produce from the Wichita Falls Area Food Bank’s Produce Express truck that delivers to the CCMO on Friday.

However, Alice chooses not to feed only herself. She is on a mission: a mission to feed the struggling working class folks who are not eligible for food stamps, but sometimes run short of food before the next paycheck. Clients who are at work during the pantry hours give her their permission to pick up food for them.

Alice arrives at the pantry to carry away the leftovers at the end of the weekly distribution. She takes most of what is left…a few loaves of bread… several packages of lettuce…and loads them into her compact car. Then she fills the back of the car with bags of produce for fifteen families.

After she leaves the CCMO, Alice continues on her way to have lunch at Grace Care Center, where she eats lunch each Friday.

After 1:00 p.m., Alice drives her fully loaded car (loaded with food, not luxury gadgets) to the donut shop where the day’s unsold donuts are available.

Next, the deliveries begin. Alice drops off bags of food all over town to people who couldn’t come to the pantry. She stops at each house on her route, unloads a bag from the back and delivers each one with a smile. She covers the convenience store, a beauty shop or two, the dog pound, homes where the occupants work the graveyard shift and will retrieve the food from the porch when they wake up from their daytime sleep.

Everyone is glad to see Alice, no matter whether she is picking up or dropping off food. 101_2944The food pantry volunteers appreciate her because she takes food that would not be edible by the next week when the pantry opens again. Her diligence decreases food waste.

The food pantry clients are happy to see Alice arrive with a produce bag filled with potatoes or beans or whatever the choice is that week. Whatever she delivers will stretch their supplies.

The deliveries continue all of Friday afternoon and on Saturday morning.

Alice leaves everyone with a smile and a bag of donuts. No one is hungry on her watch.

Mission accomplished.