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Report: SD Children Face High Risk of Food Insecurity

The organization Feeding South Dakota is trying mobile food pantries this summer to reach more rural South Dakotans. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
The organization Feeding South Dakota is trying mobile food pantries this summer to reach more rural South Dakotans. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
July 7, 2017

PIERRE, S.D. – Although the number of South Dakotans considered "food insecure" has fallen slightly this year, nearly one in eight still isn't sure where their next meal is coming from.

According to Feeding America's "Map the Meal Gap" report, large numbers of South Dakota children are at risk, too. About 18 percent are food insecure, compared with the national average of 14 percent.

Matt Gassen is CEO of Feeding South Dakota, which works with more than 350 groups across the state to provide meals. He says even working South Dakotans are going hungry.

"We just look across the landscape, be that urban or rural, and I think some of it has to do with folks that are just not making a livable wage," he says. "They're working, but they're still struggling to make ends meet."

Gassen says the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP is crucial to feeding South Dakotans. But to him, the most alarming statistic in the report is that more than 37 percent of food-insecure families in the state have incomes of $45,000 a year or higher for a family of four - but still have to rely on food assistance to eat.

Rural counties struggle more than urban areas. In nine counties, more than one in four children is food insecure. The highest rate for adults and children is 27.5 percent in Oglala Lakota County, home to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and also the poorest county in the nation, according to the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey.

Gassen says his organization is looking at new ways to feed the hungriest parts of the state, such as mobile food distribution.

"This year we're looking in piloting some new programs to try to go to where hunger is, instead of expecting hunger to always come to us," he explains.

Gassen says transportation is one reason summer presents a challenge. Kids go without meals at school, and families can't always get their children to the summer food program sites designed to help fill that gap.

In 2016, Feeding South Dakota distributed more than 11 million meals to people in need.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - SD