Social Work helps local families during annual food giveaway event

Friday, Oct 28, 2022

By Valerie Fields Hill
School of Social Work


The University of Texas at Arlington School of Social Work will host a community-wide “Trunk or Treat” and food giveaway this weekend.

Social Work student organizations, faculty, staff and alumni will join to provide a safe, family-friendly experience for more than 300 families - an estimated 1,500 adults and children - during its 3rd Annual Fall Harvest, Trunk or Treat & Food Giveaway Saturday.

The event is the largest community outreach event of the year for the School of Social Work, organizers said.

“We just want to be sure parents, children and students who live near our UTA campus have food before Thanksgiving,” said Jamilet Martinez, events coordinator for the UTA School of Social Work. “We’re Social Workers and we want to provide hope during these tough times.”

The Fall Harvest, Trunk or Treat & Food Giveaway will be from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 29, at UTA Parking Lot 49. The lot is located at 505 Doug Russell Road, at the corner of South Cooper Street.

Fall Harvest is free and open to all regardless of immigration status. No registration is required. UTA students may walk up to participate in the event.

The event will feature a contactless, drive-through "trick-or-treat" styled experience for children.

Children will remain in their parents' vehicles while the adults drive the youngsters along a pre-set route of festively decorated cars, pickups and SUVs.

At each decorated vehicle, children will receive “treats” - candy, school supplies, or small toys – from volunteers stationed there.

“We want the kids to have a lot of fun,” Martinez said. “We can’t wait to see our little tricksters Saturday.”

At the end of the Trunk or Treat route, drivers will proceed to the Food Giveaway, where they will open their vehicle trunks and Social Work volunteers will place free boxes of fresh foods, vegetables and canned items inside.

The event addresses a basic need for many families, Social Work experts said.

“In a country as rich as the USA, many assume that food insecurity does not exist,” School of Social Work Senior Associate Dean Dr. Debra Woody said. “This is just not true. We have individuals and families in our own backyard that are food insecure.

The Tarrant Area Food Bank is a co-sponsor of the Fall Harvest, Trunk or Treat & Food Giveaway for the third consecutive year.

The event began in 2020 amidst the then ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, in which many parents faced layoffs from jobs in service sectors, battled rising viral infection rates and experienced other economic challenges. 

Many families still are recovering, Social Work experts said.

“Families with small children, particularly single-parent households, are disproportionately impacted by rising costs of food, housing, and household goods,” said Dr. Diane Mitschke, a Social Work associate professor whose research interests are health and mental health of vulnerable populations.

Even in our own student population, we know many students are juggling the demands of full and part-time jobs, parenting, and pursuing their degrees, all while struggling to make ends meet.”

According to a national study released in July on food insecurity, although “the pandemic did not invent the food crisis in America, it has shined a spotlight in what has been an existing problem in the U.S. for decades.”

“In the year before the pandemic began (2019), food insecurity was the lowest it had been since the USDA began measuring it, and even then, 10.9 percent of the population – more than 35 million people – lived in a food-insecure household,” the authors of “Map the Meal Gap 2022” wrote.

“Thanks to the strong public and private response to the crisis, national food insecurity did not increase in 2020 in the United States overall as might have been predicted.”

Food insecurity is more acute locally – and among young children – than nationally, according to a Texas report.

In North Texas, 25 percent of children were food insecure before the pandemic, “despite supports like the National School Lunch Program, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and an area food bank,” wrote Dr. Jodi Moon, director of the Center for Social Measurement & Evaluation in her 2018-2019 Report “Children at Risk.”

“Now, many more children have even less access to food due to…increasing unemployment caused by COVID-19,” Dr. Moon wrote in the report.

The neighborhood surrounding the University of Texas at Arlington campus - Zip code 76010 - is one of eight in Tarrant County that is grappling with serious food insecurity among children and their families, according to the “Children at Risk” report.

“Events like this one can help to lessen the burden families face related to food insecurity, while also demonstrating UTA and the School of Social Work is a “Community That Cares’,” said Dr. Mitschke.

Fall Harvest, Trunk or Treat & Food Giveaway is aligned with all six of the Social Work profession's ethical values: service, social justice, dignity and worth of the person, integrity, importance of human relationships and competence.