By Michael Guerra
Every week, I drive from Austin to Lake LBJ, on my way to the small town of Granite Shoals, where I keep a weekend getaway. Granite Shoals is in Burnet County, on the Highland Lakes Chain, six miles west of its better-known neighbor, Marble Falls. Granite Shoals was also in the news this past summer for being near the epicenter of some of the worst flash flooding Central Texas has experienced in years.
But in addition to being a place where I find peace and solace on weekends, this small town on the Highland Lakes chain is one of the poorer places in our region, and an example of the hidden rural poverty few Austin residents know about. The town’s residents are a mix of ages, educational backgrounds and lifestyles, anyone who spends just a few minutes driving the town and its many unpaved, crushed-granite gravel roads will see a stark example of the divide between haves and have-nots.
In Granite Shoals, million-dollar lakefront homes sit just a street away from weather-beaten houses on blocks. The Capital Area Food Bank has focused on communities like Granite Shoals for many years.
Getting to lesser-known pockets of poverty and hunger is one of our primary objectives. Communities like this are home to hundreds, even thousands, of people living on fixed incomes: individuals with disabilities, or retired workers living on limited social security benefits.
Though they’re fast becoming bedroom communities for greater Austin, these places are also home to much of the region’s “working poor”—households where at least one adult is employed, but meeting the cost of living for the area is still a struggle. People are often surprised to learn that this is the face of hunger in our region, not the homeless person begging for a handout on an Austin street corner.
In our region, 35,000 residents secure emergency food by visiting a food pantry or soup kitchen supported by the Food Bank, most of them in the state of severe, if temporary, need we think of as “acute.” They may be between jobs, have a car that needed repairs, find themselves with a bill for a medical emergency room visit, or unable to pay child-related expenses—back-to-school clothes and supplies, for instance. To be sure, some individuals are in “chronic need,” but they are the exception. By and large, we see a population that wants to work, wants to pay their bills, and most certainly wants to put food—healthy, nutritious and tasty food—on its table.
So next time you take a road trip through the Hill Country, or head down toward Houston or up to Dallas, reflect on those small communities just off the beaten path. They are home to our neighbors, to thousands of individuals we will encounter working in Austin, and to families who want an “edible Austin,” just as you and I.