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Lauren Barnes is the director of communications and marketing at the East Texas Food Bank.

Money is tight around the holidays, and the East Texas Food Bank is working to ensure no one has to go hungry.

The nonprofit serves as a regional distributor for food banks across Northeast Texas, including Mission Carthage. Each year the ETFB helps serve more than a quarter million people, including more than 64,000 children. The organization strives to provide healthy options to ensure families won’t have to make the choice between food and medicine or a healthy meal and inexpensive, unhealthy food.

In this Q&A, ETFB Communications and Marketing Director Lauren Barnes helps explain the need right here at home.

What is the impact the East Texas Food Bank has in the region?

“The East Texas Food Bank has an absolutely huge impact. One in 5 citizens of East Texas, and most importantly 1 in 4 children, don’t know where their next meal is coming from.

“The food bank works with over 200 partner agencies to get food out across 26 counties so all these families and seniors that wouldn’t know where their next meal is coming from have access to healthy food.”

What does “food insecure” mean?

“That means you don’t know where your next meal is coming from and don’t have consistent access to quality, nutritious foods.

“We just want to stand in and fill that gap.”

How big of a difference does having healthy meals make in a child’s life?

“That is so important.

“I think about my daughter, she’s 8 years old, and I know if she doesn’t have a healthy breakfast, I get a text message from her teacher that she’s not focused in class, she starts to act out.

“So really having access to healthy meals is just the foundation, and it helps prevent a lot of health impacts later in life as well.”

What is the ETFB’s greatest need this time of year?

“Hunger around the holidays is a big issue, but really year-round we always need three things:

“Donate food. Schools, organizations and businesses will host food drives for us.

“Giving time. Volunteers are huge. The amount of volunteers we have in a year actually has a $1 million impact in our budget. Those are staff positions we wouldn’t be able to afford to pay, so volunteers come in and step up to fill that gap.

“Donating money. It really helps fill in the gaps after food drives and volunteers to really help ensure we can cover everything the community needs.”

How big of a difference does the newly renovated and expanded facility make?

“We just completed our capital campaign, so we’re in a brand-new building. Before, we just didn’t have a dedicated area for volunteers, so if you can imagine all these forklifts and machinery going around and then you add volunteers into that area.”

Barnes said the new area provides a safe and dedicated volunteer area along with expanded storage and a teaching kitchen.

The kitchen allows clients to come in and learn about healthy cooking, as well as how to get the most from their money, when it comes to buying food.