JACKSONVILLE — (Editor’s note: This is the 17th in a series of stories looking at the cause and impact of the Drought of 2011.)
The Drought of 2011 has hit many industries hard, causing a sizable dent in the Texas economy — state agriculture officials this month estimated that the drought has caused a record $5.2 billion in livestock and crop losses since last fall.
Those losses are producing a ripple effect in the state that is being felt in every part of society, including non-profits.
“The drought was unbelievably devastating in our field and at our produce stand,” said Almond Tree Executive Director Dianna Claiborne. “We've had about a third of what we usually have at our produce stand.”
She said the stand, which accepts WIC and other income supplement programs, uses proceeds from what is sold to supplement the programs offered at Almond Tree.
“We made about $4,000 (from WIC) last year, and we didn't have that in place for the full growing season,” she said. “This year we've only made about $1,000.”
The $3,000 loss will have to be made up through classes taught by the Almond Tree. The non-profit teaches Red Cross-certification in CPR as well as drug and alcohol driving awareness classes for those who have been court-ordered to take these classes or who wish to lower their insurance premiums, in some cases.
“We have a gift shop and that helps,” Claiborne said. “We're relying on those two revenue streams and donations from individuals.”
Fran Daniel, director of HOPE, said the poor outcome from this summer's crops has been a hardship for the center, which serves lunch four days a week to anyone who shows up.
She said for the past two weeks, volunteers who travel to the East Texas Food Bank to bring fresh produce back to HOPE have come home empty-handed.
“They were bringing back hundreds of pounds in June,” she said. “Each week for the last two weeks, there has been nothing.”
She said the only fresh produce available has been onions — something of which HOPE already has an abundance.
“We've prided ourselves in that we've been able to serve fresh food, fresh produce,” Daniel said. “When we go to the East Texas Food Bank, though, there is none.”
Karolyn Davis, spokesperson for the East Texas Food Bank, said the organization has actually upped the amount of fresh produce it has distributed. This year to date they have given out 4.3 million pounds of fresh produce, up from 3.9 million pounds last year.
She said this summer the food bank purchased produce from growers in the Texas valley because the drought has produced such a shortfall in produce crops.
“We know the importance of having a good nutritional mix of food, and that includes fresh produce,” Davis said. “We are committed to making sue families have the fresh produce they need.”
She said all produce purchased for distribution by the food bank is bought with money given through private donations and grants.
Daniel said some local growers and home-farmers were generous early in the season with excess produce. The staff at HOPE preserved the extra fresh food by freezing it in hopes of saving it for soups this winter when fresh produce would be sparse. This summer's lack of crops means they will likely have to use the frozen produce now, months ahead of plan.
“People who have given us fresh produce in the past are coming in and saying 'Sorry. There is nothing,'” Daniel said. “We're like everyone else and trying to survive.”
One thing she said HOPE is offering right now is a place for those with no air conditioning or limited resources is a cool place to spend the day in order to avoid the danger of sitting at home in a hot house.
“We all need to check on our neighbors right now and make sure they have a cool place,” she said. “There are places around town where people can go spend time and get out of the heat — HOPE, the library, the Senior Center.”
Beyond immediate resources, though, local non-profits report that the hardships they feel now will likely extend into the fall and possibly beyond.
“We teach people to farm also, and this drought has impacted our ability to stay out in the field,” Claiborne said. She said because afternoons are so hot and dry, they come in from the field by 11 a.m. each day, cutting down on the amount of time invested in Almond Tree's upcoming crops.
“It's dried up all of our fall crops,” she added. “We have plenty of onions and potatoes, because you plant those in winter. But things like squash, eggplant and cucumbers that need lots of water, we've only had one round of them this summer.”
Daniel said she is not sure whether cooler temperatures will bring any relief, either.
“We don't have any idea what the fall produce will look like,” she said. “There is just no way to predict.”