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New Report Finds Children in Rural Communities Face Higher Risk of Food Insecurity

The following post was written with the support of Feeding America staff. Feeding America is one of the nation's leading domestic hunger-relief charities. Their mission is to feed America's hungry through a nationwide network of member food banks and engage the country in the fight to end hunger.
Across America, communities continue to experience the impact of high unemployment, underemployment, reduced wages, and high poverty rates, but some communities and populations are disproportionately affected. Map the Meal Gap 2014, an annual report from Feeding America released this week reveals that no community is free of hunger, and that children living in rural communities are disproportionately impacted. Fifty-nine percent of communities that face high rates of child food insecurity are rural. In these highly food insecure counties, more than 1 in 3 children qualify as food insecure.
Residents of rural communities often face multiple challenges to gaining an adequate, nutritious diet; including high food costs, transportation hurdles, and high rates of poverty and unemployment. Food insecure children are less likely to have access to afterschool and summer feeding sites that protect them from hunger when school is out. Their parents may have to travel great distances to get to a SNAP office.
In addition to providing local-level food insecurity estimates, Map the Meal Gap 2014 estimates the share of food insecure individuals who are likely income-eligible for federal anti-hunger programs like SNAP, WIC, and school meal programs. In 94 percent of counties, the majority of food insecure households with children are income-eligible for federal nutrition programs. This finding underscores the importance of programs such as free and reduced-price lunch and WIC that are targeted at households with children. It also emphasizes the importance of increasing access to federal nutrition programs, especially when we know children experience nutritional gaps over the weekends, holidays, or summer. For example, USDA data show that far fewer children participate in breakfast (11.2 million) and summer food assistance programs (2.4 million) than those who receive free or reduced-price lunch (21 million). We can also take steps to support charitable feeding programs that help fill in the gaps for children who lack access to federal nutrition programs; or for children whose families struggle to put food on the table but make slightly too much income to qualify for federal assistance.
Particularly within rural communities, improved program access and innovative delivery models can help to improve participation rates. For example, there are only about 42 summer food sites for every 100 lunch programs nationwide. In addition to increasing the number of summer feeding sites, policy makers should support alternative summer delivery models, such as delivering meals to low-income neighborhoods rather than requiring families to find transportation to a summer site; or allowing families to pick up a week’s worth of meals to eat at home rather than requiring children to travel to the site each day.
Other findings on child hunger from Map the Meal Gap 2014 include:

  • Among the top 10% of counties with the highest child food insecurity rates, more than 1 in 3 children struggle with food insecurity.

  • The South contains nearly 90 percent of high food insecurity rate counties.

  • Racial and ethnic minorities are disproportionately at risk of food insecurity.

Both food insecurity and eligibility rates vary from county to county. By providing data about hunger at the state, congressional district, and county level, Map the Meal Gap can help policymakers, service providers, and advocates identify strategies to best reach the families and children in need of food assistance. We encourage you to explore the full findings of the report as well as an interactive map and downloadable state fact sheets are available online at www.feedingamerica.org/mapthegap.

White House Announces Inaugural “Promise Zones”

Last week, coinciding with the 50th Anniversary of the War on Poverty, President Obama reiterated his long-standing commitment to neighborhood revitalization and community building by announcing the first five “Promise Zones.” Each community designated a Promise Zone will be targeted for comprehensive, interagency, cooperative assistance with projects aimed at fighting poverty and blight. Up to 20 Promise Zones will be designated in the next four years. The first five are: San Antonio, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Southeastern Kentucky, and the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma.
The Promise Zones initiative grew out of the White House’s Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative (NRI), meant to encourage place-based policy development and interagency cooperation for the purpose of creating “Ladders of Opportunity” out of poverty for some of the country’s most-blighted communities. Through NRI, low income neighborhoods were targeted for community-based housing, education, and public safety projects that prioritized local needs and resident-centered decision making. NRI and Promise Zones both acknowledge that every community is unique and so needs individualized responses to fighting poverty.
Eligible applicants were limited in the first round of Promise Zone designations to existing NRI grantees, but the next round will be open to any community that meets the eligibility criteria. The application may be available as early as February, 2014. For more information about each of the five new Promise Zones, read below.
Los Angeles, CA (Neighborhoods of Pico Union, Westlake, Koreatown, Hollywood, and East Hollywood): Los Angeles’ Promise Zone will work toward increasing housing affordability, expanding their existing community schools model, improving career and technical education opportunities, improved public transit infrastructure, and charging local political leadership with improving efficiency.
We are pleased to announce that Alliance member agency the Youth Policy Institute is a lead partner in LA’s Promise Zone. Dixon Slingerland, Executive Director of the Youth Policy Institute, said of the announcement:
“It was an honor for me to join Mayor Eric Garcetti at the White House last week for President Obama’s historic announcement that Los Angeles had been designated as a Promise Zone, one of only three cities selected in the nation. YPI is proud to be the lead partner with the City in this effort and to be the only agency in the country to have been awarded all three White House signature neighborhood revitalization initiatives — Promise Neighborhoods, Choice Neighborhoods, and Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation. YPI believes, as the President does, that a child’s zip code should never determine her destiny.”
San Antonio, TX (Eastside Neighborhood): San Antonio’s Promise Zone will focus on job creation and training, the establishment of high quality pre-K programs, improved college access and adult education initiatives, and improved public safety through better street lighting and demolishing abandoned buildings.
Philadelphia, PA (West Philadelphia): Philadelphia’s Promise Zone will focus on improved job skills training and adult education, small business development, building a supermarket in the West Philadelphia neighborhood to provide both jobs and better quality food, mentoring middle and high school youth for college readiness, and better community-based policing efforts.
Southeastern Kentucky (Kentucky Highlands): In the Kentucky Highlands, the Promise Zone will help to diversify the economy and make it more resilient by leveraging private sector funds to grow small businesses, training youth in entrepreneurship and leadership, and developing metrics to evaluate college and career readiness.
Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma: The Choctaw Nation’s Promise Zone will focus on improved workforce training, investing in infrastructure, improving education through better data sharing, more parent supports, and early literacy initiatives, and pursuing economic diversification.

Widespread Drop in Obesity Seen Among Low-Income Pre-Schoolers

Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported a small but significant decline in childhood obesity in 19 states and territories among low-income pre-school students. Many hailed the news as a promising sign that childhood obesity has reached its peak and may now begin to decline nationwide. It may also be a promising sign that some programs aimed at reducing childhood obesity and increasing access to healthy food and physical activity might be working.
It is especially good news that the decline was seen among lower-income children, often the group most likely to face the dual problem of food insecurity and obesity. Increasing access to healthier food in schools, more fresh fruits and vegetables in the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women Infants and Children (WIC), and better education about health, obesity, and nutrition all seem to be having an impact. The USDA Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) has numerous programs aimed at improving health and food quality for school children and lower-income families, such as the Farm to School grant program and the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act. Some also partially attribute the declining obesity rate to an increase in breastfeeding.
Although the overall decline in childhood obesity is small, it is widespread; and there are parallels in how every community can begin to improve children’s health locally—by making small changes and taking it step-by-step. All communities need access to healthy food options and fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as opportunities to walk or bike to school and work, and education about food choices, physical activity, and health. Someone’s income or neighborhood should not determine their access to healthy food, quality medical care, or a healthy lifestyle. This exciting news from the CDC suggests that we may be beginning to move in the right direction.
UNCA member organization the Neighborhood House Association (NHA) in San Diego has won national recognition by Let’s Move! Child Care, and First Lady Michelle Obama for their Healthy, Fit, and Happy Head Start nutrition program. The nutrition program provides daily meals to over 2,000 low-income children in the Head Start program and eliminates processed and pre-packaged foods through the inclusion of local, fresh, natural, and organic foods. NHA has also developed a Farm to Preschool partnership, and has created a city-wide Let’s Move Head Start Olympics. The State of California has also recognized NHA  through the Healthy, Fit and Happy in the New Year program. Damon Carson, NHA Vice President of Children Youth and Family Services, welcomed the CDC findings:
“Neighborhood House Association (NHA) celebrates the results of the recently released Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report demonstrating a national reduction of childhood obesity rates among low income families.
As operators of a large Head Start program, we are proud of building a wellness program that is helping underserved communities improve their quality of life.
NHA looks forward to continue making a difference in reducing childhood obesity and supporting children and families in creating a healthier future.”

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by Dr. Radut