Hungriest children in South Central Texas live in Zavala Co., world's 'Spinach Capital'

The largest population of food insecure kids live in Zavala County, Crystal City, ironically the "Spinach Capital of the World".

CRYSTAL CITY, Texas -- The hungriest children in our region live in Zavala County.

That's according to the organization Feeding America.

KENS 5 took a trip to Crystal City, the "Spinach Capital of the World", to learn more about what the county is doing to feed its own families.

Every second Tuesday of the month, residents in Zavala County line up for blocks around San Antonio Food Bank's Crystal City branch.

Each wait their turn for a bite to eat.

"This is a supplemental grocery box to help people get through the month," Susan Filyk, Communications Manager for the San Antonio Food Bank said.

"We're able to provide some grocery staples. A little bit of produce today, some healthy foods just to be able to help folks bridge that gap through the month." Filyk said.

In Zavala County, 10.5 percent of people are food insecure. That means they have limited access to an adequate amount of food.

"This is a low income community," Jesse Gonzalez, the Precinct 3 Commissioner in Zavala County said.

"The industry that provided a lot of work, which was the farming, is no longer available. So that means we still have migrant workers living in the community. The ones that stay here, there's not really a lot of work." Gonzalez said.

Of the roughly 13,000 in the county, 3,000 are children; the hungriest in south central Texas.

"The school district feeds the kids during school. In the summertime I don't believe there's a program available right now," Miguel A. Acosta, Zavala County Commissioner for Precinct 2 said.

If you're 18 and under in Zavala County, there's a 31.2% chance you're food insecure.

At one point, during the recession around 2008-2009, the county had the hungriest children in the nation.

"We were producing the most spinach in the country," Gonzalez said.

"Even though we don't grow as much as we do in the farming business, we still do produce a lot out of Del Monte. They still produce a lot of the spinach, and they also bring it in from not only within the state, but out of state and pack it here." Gonzalez said.

Ironically, Crystal City is considered the Spinach Capital of the World.

Although the city has the Del Monte plant, commissioners say a lot of the employees are not from town.

"Times have changed. This part of the country used to be migrants. They used to go up north. That's changed. They no longer go up north," Acosta said. "They stay in Crystal City."

"The oil boom that happened here helped to a certain extent, but then all of a sudden it fizzled out," Acosta added.

"We had a lot of people who moved from their existing job to a better paying job and now they're back to square one...We have a certain amount of population that are minimum wage workers and they're struggling to make ends meet." Acosta said.

Gonzalez said many women are stay-at-home moms; most have large families and the husband accounts for their one paycheck.

"Those [women] that are working are very fortunate," Gonzalez said. "There's not a lot of work, and if you do find work it's gotta be in either Carrizo or Uvalde, in the closer communities."

Tomasa Salas, a Zavala County resident, relies on the San Antonio Food Bank to help feed her two grandchildren.

"Especially now that school's out," Salas said. "This food helps out with the extra feedings we have to do."

Salas also helps deliver grocery boxes to residents who aren't able to drive.

Commissioners say they're working with the school district in Crystal City to figure out a solution to feed their children year-round.

"Every little bit helps," Salas said. "Especially down here."

According to Feeding America, the Texas county with the largest percentage of hungry children is Sabine County, in east Texas.

Mississippi has the largest rate of food insecurity among children at 26.3 percent.

The San Antonio Food Bank serves 58,000 food insecure families in 16 Texas counties each week.

For more information on the San Antonio Food Bank, click here.

To learn more about hunger across the nation, click here.

© 2017 KENS-TV


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