Saturday, December 14, 2013

Kids Count Reports 25.9 Percent of Gregg County Children Impoverished

Adapted from an article by Reese Gordon
View article from Longview News Journal, posted December 4, 2013

Nearly 26 percent of Gregg County children were considered impoverished in 2011, according to a report released Tuesday, December 3rd.

The 7,987 — 25.9 percent — Gregg County children who comprised the 2011 statistic represented a 23 percent increase in the rate of Gregg County children living in poverty in 2000, according to the latest data from the Kids Count report done by the Center for Public Policy Priorities, an independent research organization which advocates for low-income Texans. In 2000, 6,481 children — 22 percent of all Gregg County children — lived in poverty.

Statewide, there was a 47 percent increase in the rate of children living in poverty from 2000 to 2011. That outstripped the 18 percent increase in the state’s child population during the same period.  Twenty-seven percent of Texas children were living in poverty in 2011, a rate that put the Lone Star State among the nine worst states.

Poverty is a key measure of child well-being, according to the report, which added that poverty can create “toxic stress” that alters children’s developing brains and bodies and is related to gaps in health and education.

Among the reasons Texas’ child poverty rate has grown is that despite the state’s relatively low unemployment rate, it has a high rate of jobs that pay minimum wage or less, said Frances Deviney, Texas Kids Count director. The federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour.

Dennis Cullinane, executive director for the East Texas Food Bank, said the organization has worked with Northeast Texas schools to distribute food to the most needy students.  Cullinane noted that not all children living below the poverty line are “food insecure.”

According to the website, 7,040 — 22.7 percent — children in Gregg County are food insecure.

“The school administrators have to identify those children,” he said. “We can’t feed them all. They have to choose the most needy. If you’re not nourishing the brain, you’re not going to learn. These kids needs an education.”

Longview, Pine Tree and Hallsville school districts have made a concentrated effort to alleviate student hunger by adopting the Backpack Meal program, which provides sustenance to students in need.

"We have had as many as 19 students receiving food for the weekend through our Backpack Project," said Gina Ozment, Pine Tree Primary Campus Counselor.

Greggton United Methodist Church, along with East Texas Food Bank, has partnered with Pine Tree ISD to deliver the backpacks full of food Friday for the students to take home for the weekend.

"We offer breakfast to every student in the morning," said Ozment.  "I am so grateful for this because I know that those who need nourishment can at least eat twice a day."

The program, funded strictly on donations from community members and organizations, has helped keep students fed by filling backpacks with non-perishable food items that the students take home at the end of every week.

Some students in the district are also in need of shoes and clothes, according to Donna Pruitt, Community Resource Coordinator.

Pine Tree ISD offers a specialized, "Pirate Boutique" that is full of gently worn clothes for students to receive without cost.  "We also use donations to purchase underwear, shoes and other personal items when needed," she said.

— The Texas Tribune contributed to this report.

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