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Overview: Rural Child Hunger
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Rural America possesses a unique mix of opportunities and assets in the fight to end child hunger. Leverage these insights to authentically engage rural communities and tailor your work accordingly.

An urgent truth exists in America: children living in rural communities face a particular vulnerability to food insecurity and hunger. Rural child hunger is deeply intertwined with other social determinants, including financial insecurity, racial inequity and inadequate healthcare and transportation infrastructure. However, just as the challenges facing rural communities are interconnected, so are the solutions. 

Research on Rural Child Hunger and Food Insecurity: 

  • Share Our Strength and Feeding America ​​​​​​ partnered with a team of researchers from six universities, led by North Carolina State University, on an in-depth qualitative study to explore what makes it easier or harder for families in rural areas to provide food for their kids. The study is the first to provide an in-depth exploration of the experiences of food insecurity in six rural counties across the United States.  This qualitative study involved more than 150 interviews with families in six states. The Rural Food Insecurity Qualitative Research Brief has more information on the study design and findings.
  • Share Our Strength and Feeding America also published a joint report that broadly examines the overlooked crisis of children living with the threat of hunger in rural America.  The Child Hunger in Rural America report includes statistics on poverty gleaned from secondary sources, highlights from our qualitative research focused on interviews with rural families, and learnings from the 2019 Rural Child Hunger Summit.
  • Rural Child Hunger and Faith Community Engagement: This report, produced by Duke University's World Food Policy Center, with support and in collaboration with Share Our Strength's No Kid Hungry campaign, identifies themes, barriers, and opportunities for addressing rural child hunger within faith-based organizations and communities. The report combines a review of existing literature with key informant interviews to illustrate current practices and future opportunities for faith communities to address rural child hunger, highlighting notable community and faith-based responses to rural food insecurity.
    • Accompanying this report, the World Food Policy Center's podcast series, The Leading Voices in Food, recorded a discussion with the report author and leading thinkers around "The Role & Promise of Rural Faith Communities in Solving Hunger". Click here to learn more and listen to the podcast recording.

Resources

Afterschool Meals
School Breakfast
SNAP
Summer Meals
WIC & Early Childhood
Summer girl eating rural

Rural Food Insecurity: Research Brief and Report

Share Our Strength and Feeding America partnered on a qualitative research study and broader report examining food insecurity in rural communities across the United States.

Research & Data
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No Kid Hungry Partners
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Promising Practices to End Child Hunger in Rural America
family eating together

To end child hunger in rural America, solutions must be place-based and tailored to the unique needs and preferences of rural families and community members.

Over the course of the past decade, No Kid Hungry’s work to end child hunger has shown that not all communities are alike, and that interventions to address hunger must incorporate local perspectives and realities in order to solve urgent challenges faced by families. For families with low income living in rural areas, the geography of hunger often includes food deserts without access to full-service supermarkets; higher prices for food that is available; and high transportation costs associated with limited infrastructure. The good news is that programmatic and policy options exist that would make a meaningful difference in the lives of children and families at risk of hunger, some of which would also provide a meaningful economic boost to rural communities across America.

Program Delivery: Rural places are often close-knit and possess a strong sense of community, which can be a unique asset in addressing hunger. Here, we highlight strategies and tactics refined and implemented at the community level. 

  • Innovation: Schools, nonprofits, community-based organizations, and others are constantly coming up with new ideas to reach more kids with healthy food and improve their programs.  Read about the innovative work meal providers across the country are doing and be inspired to implement your own program innovations.
  • Mobile Meals are one solution to reaching kids who are missing out on meals during the summertime when school is out of session. Using the “mobile meals” model, sponsors use vehicles to transport and serve meals directly at apartment complexes, parks, and other locations where children spend their summer days. Mobile programs provide a hyper-local food delivery model that may be particularly useful in rural or suburban communities where distance and a lack of public transportation options are major barriers to access. As part of No Kid Hungry’s Mobile Meals Toolkit, we’ve documented three unique mobile meals models that were thoughtfully designed to meet the needs of children and families. Each one highlights a different rural community and will give you new ideas and help you to think strategically about designing a successful mobile meals program. 

Policy Change: State and federal lawmakers have the power to implement policy solutions to alleviate child hunger in rural and hard-to-reach communities. By supporting nutrition access for children in rural communities, we can ensure that kids have the support they need to grow up strong, laying the groundwork for future prosperity. 

  • Federal: At the federal level, through Child Nutrition Reauthorization, Congress also has the opportunity to make significant updates and improvements to our nation’s federal nutrition programs. These go beyond the emergency measures we've seen during the Covid-19 response, but reflect some of the lessons learned during this crisis. Three key changes would especially benefit rural communities. 

    • Streamline the afterschool and summer meal programs into a single program. Currently, afterschool meals and summer meals operate as two programs with two sets of rules and regulations, two sets of audits and two sets of staff training. The paperwork, red tape and amount of time spent on doubling this work can act as a deterrent for organizations to act as summer meal sites. Allowing these two programs to operate under one set of rules and regulations would reduce administrative burdens, foster greater efficiency and enable providers to reach more children and families with programming. 

    • Introduce flexibility around the “congregate” meal requirement. Many communities need more tools beyond congregate meals to ensure that children have adequate and dignified access to summer meals. The congregate meal requirement, which requires that children go to and from summer meal sites each day in order to consume a meal onsite during a specific timeframe, is a limiting factor of a program that only serves about 15-17% of eligible children. Providing flexibility around this regulation would allow providers to drop meals off with eligible families or operate mobile food trucks where kids could pick up a meal and take it home. This innovation will allow the program to better reach eligible communities in rural and other hard-to-reach areas, as we've seen throughout the Covid-19 response thanks to federal waivers allowing for non-congregate meal service and parent pickup of meals. 

    • Permanently authorize the Summer Electronic Benefit Transfer (Summer EBT). In many communities, the most effective, direct way to reach kids is to provide additional funds for food purchase through an electronic benefit transfer system. The USDA conducted a demonstration project in several states in 2011 and 2012 and found this was an effective tool to reach children, especially in rural communities, and actively reduced very low food security for children by 33%.  In many ways, success with Summer EBT laid the groundwork for Pandemic EBT, an ongoing emergency response of the USDA during Covid-19 that provides food assistance to families with children eligible for free or reduced-price meals. 

  • State: While federal Child Nutrition Programs are regulated at the national level, states have significant leeway in how these programs are administered and can provide supplemental funding and other resources to ensure school and out-of-school time meals effectively reach eligible children, as seen in the examples below. 

    • Require alternative breakfast models in high-need schools. Colorado, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Nevada, Washington, and Oregon are examples of states that have adopted a requirement that schools provide breakfast after the start of the school day when school enrollment consists of 70% or greater free and reduced price lunch eligible students. Another example can be found in California, which included $500,000 in a recent state budget to support schools looking to implement breakfast after the bell. 

    • Take advantage of opportunities to bolster the quality and reach of federal nutrition programs. In Kentucky, the Kentucky Departments of Agriculture and Education, in partnership with Feeding Kentucky, the state association of food banks, established the Kentucky-Grown Fruit and Vegetable Incentive Program, also known as K-VIP. This program was established in 2018 to increase locally-grown fruit and vegetables in the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) and the CACFP At-Risk Afterschool Meals Program. Through K-VIP, Feeding Kentucky covers half the cost of produce purchased directly from Kentucky farms, helping provide an economic boost to local food supply chains. 

    • Provide additional grocery assistance to families in rural communities when schools are closed. The summer meals program, which requires families to travel to a meal site and consume the meal at the site, can be challenging to access for children, especially in rural communities. Mirroring the successful federal Summer EBT demonstration project, states can support children in these communities when schools are closed by providing financial assistance directly to rural families to purchase groceries. Maryland, for example, established the Summer SNAP for Children program, which provides an additional $30 per summer month and an additional $10 in December for each child in households already receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.  

Resources

Summer Meals
Summer community meals girl eating 2

Summer Meals Fact Sheet

An overview of the need for summer meals, basic facts about the program, and ways both individuals and organizations can get involved.

Engaging Stakeholders
Program Overview
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Local Officials
No Kid Hungry Partners
Summer Meals
boy with drink on playground bench

Mobile Meals Toolkit: Meal Service Logistics & Best Practices

This resource is designed to support summer meals program sponsors in the development and implementation of a successful mobile meals delivery and service solution in their communities.

Implementation Support
Innovative Approaches & Successful Models
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School Nutrition Staff
Summer Meals
Summer mobile meals

Seaford School District: Leapfrogging to Summer Meals Success

Seaford School District started its mobile meals program in 2016 and served an impressive 8,600 meals that summer. However, after the program adopted an innovative “leapfrogging” model, Seaford was able to increase its number of meals served to over 24,000 in 2018. Learn more in this case study.'

Case Studies
Innovative Approaches & Successful Models
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Nonprofit Sponsors
School Nutrition Staff
Summer Meals
Summer meals kids eating

Growing Futures Along Country Roads in Garrett County, Maryland

Garrett County Food and Nutrition Services (FNS) in rural Maryland uses mobile trailers to deliver summer lunch to 14 sites across the county. Learn about how Garrett County FNS increased their number of meals served by 85% from 2012 to 2018 by implementing a mobile solution.'

Case Studies
Innovative Approaches & Successful Models
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Nonprofit Sponsors
School Nutrition Staff
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Rural Child Hunger Summit
2019 RCHS

Since 2019, the No Kid Hungry campaign, in collaboration with rural stakeholders, has worked to help cultivate a thriving dialogue among researchers, policymakers, and practitioners who are working to end child hunger in the rural communities they live in or serve. Much of these efforts have centered on two national convenings, which have produced a wide range of content that is available below for review. 

No Kid Hungry is working to bring together national, state, and local leaders and experts from around the country to explore disparities driving child hunger in rural communities and identify promising practices and policy levers to alleviate rural child hunger. We celebrated innovations that are user-centered and evidence-informed, and fostered connections between communities of research and practice. Through these convenings, we have helped to cultivate a thriving dialogue among researchers, policymakers, and practitioners who are working to end child hunger in the rural communities they live in or serve. Much of these efforts have centered on two national convenings, which have produced a wide range of content that is available below for review.

  • 2020 Rural Child Hunger Summit: The Summit, which took place on March 31, was originally scheduled to occur as a physical convening in Columbus, OH but was moved to a virtual platform due to the Covid-19 outbreak.  

  • 2019 Rural Child Hunger Summit: On March 21-22, No Kid Hungry hosted its first-ever Rural Child Summit in Louisville, Kentucky. Over the course of two days, the group focused on the latest research, policy options, and emerging innovations designed to uncover promising practices in the fight against rural child hunger. 

    • Access all Summit presentations by clicking on the session titles in this hyperlinked program

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Rural Child Hunger: Webinar Recordings
cafeteria worker handing out meals

Register for upcoming webinars and view recordings of past webinars.

View recordings for webinars on rural child hunger best practices through the resources attached below. 

Register for our upcoming webinars here. 

Resources