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Helping the hungry of Montgomery County

I have three things to say about this.

Though many are familiar with [Montgomery County]’s growth, thanks to the wealth of The Woodlands and the coming Exxon corporate campus just down Interstate 45, fewer see the poverty and hunger dispersed across the suburban and rural communities.

School officials see it. Over the past decade, every district in the county has seen an increase in the percentage of students designated “economically disadvantaged,” according to the Texas Education Agency.

Last month, meanwhile, the Montgomery County Food Bank opened a new center, boosting its capacity from 220,000 pounds of food to 42 million pounds. The large increase was necessary to meet a rising need from the community that’s being driven in large part by an influx of low-paying service jobs that coincide with the boom, said Rodney Dickerson, the food bank’s president.

In 2013, the food bank served 25,000 to 30,000 individuals per month. This year, the number rose to 40,000 to 45,000 per month.

“The challenge is that people in Montgomery County don’t really see the poverty because they’re pockets that are hidden,” said Julie Martineau, president of the Montgomery County United Way. “Because everything looks beautiful, and the people in poverty are away from the main roads, (many people) don’t know it’s here.”

Some parts of the county, such as New Caney and Splendora, have long struggled with poverty.

[…]

Even with the school’s breakfast and lunch programs in the first half of the summer, Dickerson said, the summer months are a difficult time for many.

“For us, we see it immediately,” said the food bank president. “We see the jump as soon as school is out.”

It’s the combination of rising electrical costs to cool homes and the gaps in meals for school-age children that hurt the most in summer, he said.

The food bank operates four mobile pantries once a month throughout the county, in addition to supplying food to various daily programs and hosting periodic “food fairs.” Since the mobile pantry service began three years ago, Dickerson said, there’s been a steady increase in demand.

Growing suburban poverty is part of a national trend, according to the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program. So while the country added some 12 million new poor people from 2005 to 2009, that growth tended to occur outside city limits.

“The growth we saw in poverty was located more frequently in the suburbs than in the cities,” said Carey Anne Nadeau, a research analyst who worked with the Brookings program and is now a masters student at MIT’s urban studies and city planning department. Houston ranked in the top 10 metropolitan areas where suburban poverty grew most rapidly in the 2000s, along with Dallas, Phoenix and Atlanta.

That decade also saw more concentrated poverty, or neighborhoods where more than 40 percent of residents live in poverty. In the suburbs, that sort of isolated poverty can be harder for families to combat, said Nadeau, because it tends to come with fewer affordable housing options and a lack of access to public services like mass transit.

Even suburbs that seem to be booming, like Montgomery County, experience the suburbanization of poverty, she said.

“It’s a trend regional economists talk about all the time, where higher-wage employment can create low-wage employment,” Nadeau said.

Three major groups contribute to hunger in Montgomery County, according to Dickerson: the working poor, children and seniors.

“When you experience the growth that Montgomery County has, in The Woodlands in particular, that brings the need for additional minimum wage workers,” Dickerson said.

1. While poverty is rising nationwide, much of that poverty is concentrated in southern states where not surprisingly, and not coincidentally, the safety net is all but non-existent. If it’s not from the federal government or local government – if you’re lucky enough to be in the right locality – there’s nothing to help you or your kids if you’re poor. Go ahead and starve, the governors and legislatures of these states couldn’t care less.

2. Speaking of local government, there’s nothing in this story to suggest that Montgomery County, which is overall a fairly wealthy place currently experiencing a huge economic boom, has anything to offer the folks on the bottom of the ladder. Given the nature of local government in a place like that, it wouldn’t shock me if their basic plan is to push anyone who needs services into neighboring counties that actually have a heart. I don’t know this to be true about Montgomery County – again, the story says nothing on the subject – but it wouldn’t surprise me if it were true, and it shouldn’t surprise you.

3. You know what would really help all those minimum wage workers? Raising the minimum wage, that’s what. Please spare me the BS sob stories about how national fast food chains and multi-national energy companies are going to be put out of business by being forced to pay their cashiers and janitors three dollars an hour more.

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