According to a new study by hunger-relief charity Feeding America, nearly 20 percent of Texans are food insecure, the condition of being unable to provide adequate food for a healthy life for all members of a household due to lack of money or other resources.
The data from Feeding America's study will be made public June 10 in the 3rd Annual Feeding America "Map the Meal Gap" report, showing on a county level that hunger exists, and how it differs, throughout the United States.
NBC was able to get an exclusive look at the data before it's formally released next week.
In the report, the data showed that 38 percent of food-insecure Texans were above the poverty line and therefore ineligible for federal nutrition programs like SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). Adding in food insecure children, the number of people ineligible for federal nutrition programs in Texas drops to 31 percent.
Data obtained from The Texas Health and Human Services Commission shows that in Dec., 2011, there were 1.5 million families receiving SNAP benefits, feeding an estimated 3.7 million Texans.
"Fifty-seven percent of all food-insecure households participated in one or more of the three largest Federal food and nutrition assistance programs during the month prior to the 2011 survey," the USDA reported.
Those who don't qualify for assistance must then rely on charitable donations, such as food banks, to bring healthy food into the home.
The Feeding America data also showed that though Texas' average cost per meal of $2.28 is below the national average of $2.67 per meal, the state's food insecurity rate of 18.7 percent is 3.8 percent higher than the national average of 14.9 percent; meaning even though it costs less to put food on the table in Texas, more Texans struggle to meet that need compared to the rest of the country.
The national number of food insecure includes an additional 5.7 percent whose food security was rated very low, "meaning that the food intake of one or more household members was reduced and their eating patterns were disrupted at times during the year because the household lacked money and other resources for food," according to information released by the United States Department of Agriculture. That number also represents an increase of .03 percent from 2010.
The number of food insecure grows even higher with regard to food insecurity rates of children, which in Texas is 27.6 percent, or 5.2 percent above the national average of 22.4 percent, according to the study.
In Texas, according to the North Texas Food Bank, one out of every four children do not have access to adequate meals on a regular basis.
The hardest hit counties in the state with the highest food insecurity rates are mostly along the Texas-Mexico border, according to data released by Feeding America. Those counties are San Augustine (23.9 percent), Willacy (23.6 percent), Zavala (23.6 percent), Jefferson (23.5 percent) and Starr (22.6 percent). The five counties with the highest rates of food insecurity in children are Zavala (45.9 percent), Starr (42.1 percent), Willacy (42 percent), Cameron (39.9 percent) and Brooks (39.8 percent).
Experts said the higher number in food insecurity in children is derived because there are often several children in one family that is struggling to put food on the table.
Though several North Texas counties fare better than those with the highest insecurity rates in the state, the numbers for all, except for counties in bold, are still above the national average (14.9 percent, or 22.4 percent for children), according to Feeding America.
In North Texas' four most-populated counties, the number of food insecure people and children in 2011, according to Feeding America, are as follows:
View Dallas-Fort Worth: Food Insecurity in a larger map
Comparatively speaking, here are how Texas' other most-populated areas compare, according to Feeding America's data.
According to the Texas Food Bank Network, "Texas is among the Top 8 states in terms of food insecurity rates, and second in terms of the number of food insecure households."
So what can be done to help the hungry here at home? There are many local community-based organizations, such as food banks, the Salvation Army or area churches, that are dedicated to fighting hunger in North Texas.
In Dallas, the North Texas Food Bank, has already served more than 47 million meals this year alone. The organization accepts both cash and food donations and also relies on volunteers donating their time to help those in need. Find out more here.
In Fort Worth, the Tarrant Area Food Bank serves more than 500,000 meals per month to 45,000 households in the western DFW area. Those wishing to make a donation or to donate their time with the Tarrant Area Food Bank can find out more information here.