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Where Food Banks are Scarce, Semi-Trucks Fill Gap in Rural KY

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Food insecurity and child hunger have skyrocketed during the COVID-19 pandemic across the United States. (Adobe Stock)
Food insecurity and child hunger have skyrocketed during the COVID-19 pandemic across the United States. (Adobe Stock)
 By Nadia Ramlagan, Public News Service - KY - Producer, Contact
January 25, 2021

BEREA, Ky. -- In a few weeks, the U.S. Department of Agriculture-run Farmers to Families Food Box Program will resume in at least eight counties.

Anti-hunger advocates warned the situation is dire for families, especially for children, many of whom are remote learning and don't have access to regular school meals.

Household food insecurity continues to soar statewide, and some counties have reported up to 35% to 40 % increases in need.

Alissa Taylor, Kentucky state director for Save the Children, said rural communities in particular face several logistical challenges.

"The food boxes are delivered on semi-tractor trailers, so getting those into these communities that are far off the beaten path is more and more difficult," Taylor explained. "We really have to work and negotiate and make sure we have volunteers on the ground standing by to unload and distribute them."

She noted the program currently has a waitlist, but pointed out her colleagues are working with school districts to get groceries to families through drive-through pickups at schools, delivering meals using school buses, and by organizing community food drives.

Tamara Sandberg, U.S. advisor for food security and nutrition at Save the Children, said in regions with fewer food banks or greater transportation barriers, bringing food to a central location by truck is a promising model that could be modified across rural areas.

"Rural communities tend to be underserved," Sandberg remarked. "And if there's a food pantry in a rural community, it's often staffed by volunteers. It may only be open one day a month in some cases, and people may have trouble getting to it because of transportation barriers."

Taylor added Save the Children is partnering with counties to push for an expansion of the Farmers to Families Food Box program.

"Our partners are doing outreach to share the word and get the word out through their local radio stations, newspapers, social media," Taylor outlined. "So the folks in the communities are finding out when they're available. They'll be weekly through the month of February and hopefully beyond."

Taylor concluded in the long term, she hopes communities can be inspired to think about sustainable food growth, especially during the winter months.

Save the Children and agtech company AppHarvest recently distributed hydroponic plant kits to 1,600 kids in eastern Kentucky, so they can try growing produce indoors.

Disclosure: Save the Children contributes to our fund for reporting on Children's Issues, Early Childhood Education, Education, and Poverty Issues. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
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