After eight exhausting hours of work, you come home and open the fridge, hoping to find something easy to make for dinner. You’ve been fantasizing about relaxing on the couch with pasta since the final hour of your shift. But when you open the fridge, you only see a bottle of mustard and two eggs. Now, imagine you have a family of four to feed; it’s no longer just you searching for a satisfying meal.
This nightmare is a reality for 14.7% of individuals in Austin, according to Feeding America. Food insecurity is an economic and social condition in many households throughout Austin in which members don’t have consistent access to sufficient and nutritious food.
Food insecurity isn’t defined as a lack of food, but rather as not having enough food. It’s having enough food for your children but only leaving you hungry. It’s choosing to pay rent instead of buying groceries. It’s having food that lacks nutritional value and quality.
Lisa Barden is the executive director of local nonprofit Keep Austin Fed, which fights food insecurity in Austin by recycling food waste. Barden touches on how COVID-19 specifically impacted food insecurity in the community.
“With the onset of COVID, many of our friends, family and neighbors found themselves facing food insecurity for the first time as they were furloughed, had reduced hours or were laid off with little warning,” Barden says. “At the same time, schools were closed, and the meals that many children relied on were no longer available or much harder to obtain.”
Understanding food insecurity is important, but turning knowledge into action makes a difference in fighting food insecurity, which is exactly what KAF aims to do.
Grocery stores like Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods regularly donate food to the nonprofit. The organization also collects food from local restaurants on demand. Once collected, KAF safely stores the food donations until they’re able to redistribute them to the community through the 75 local nonprofits they’re partnered with.
The recipients of KAF’s redistributed food include more than food pantries and homeless shelters; they also include mental health support services, domestic violence centers, immigrant support housing and more. According to KAF’s 2021 annual report, the organization rescued a total of $1,408,227 worth of food in 2021.
Barden emphasizes the importance of continuing to fight food insecurity.
“As we rebound from the effects of COVID, many people still struggle to pay bills that have accumulated (and) are faced with eviction and rising prices of gas and groceries,” Barden says. “Food is a basic human need and a right for everyone.”
Though the nonprofit mainly collects food from food-permitted businesses — and occasionally surplus produce from community gardens — Barden also encourages others to step into donating food, whether you’re a private chef or just someone who likes to cook.
Barden recommends donating to the ATX Free Fridge Program because anyone can donate, not just food-permitted businesses. This makes it a great option for community members to get involved in fighting food insecurity. Volunteers monitor the contents of the fridge to keep the food fresh and the fridge organized and clean. Along with the ATX Free Fridge Program, people can volunteer at other places such as Central Texas Food Bank and, of course, Keep Austin Fed. Barden also recommends joining Facebook Buy Nothing Project Groups and posting leftover food items and surplus garden produce there.
However, if cooking isn’t your forte or you’re unable to contribute to the organizations mentioned, you can still make an impact in your community! Barden proposes prioritizing eating your leftovers, freezing unused produce and being conscious about purchasing food to prevent food waste. Whatever you do, just know it can make a difference to someone in need.
“Offer a meal to a neighbor facing hard times or put a meal or two in one of the free fridges around town,” Barden says. “Be a hunger action hero!”