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Hard times could be ahead for rural school districts that spent federal pandemic money on teacher salaries, a former Oregon lumber community drafts a climate-action plan and West Virginians may soon buy raw milk from squeaky-clean cows.

Group Develops Ways to Combat Rural Child Hunger

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Tuesday, September 20, 2022   

Save the Children's Rural Child Hunger Research and Innovation Lab aims to help communities design and test new, creative ways to reduce rural child hunger.

According to a report called Map the Meal Gap from the nonprofit Feeding America, nine out of 10 counties with the highest food-insecurity rates are rural.

Tamara Sandberg, senior adviser for food security at Save the Children, said lessons learned during the pandemic increased flexibility for federally funded food programs across the country. She hopes the lab will allow communities to continue problem-solving to ensure more Arkansas kids do not go hungry.

"The idea of the Rural Child hunger Research and Innovation Lab is to lift up ideas from within rural communities," Sandberg explained. "Provide them with the support to incubate their ideas, and then funding and technical assistance to try out their ideas."

Sandberg added they are trying to keep momentum going to reduce the barriers children in rural communities have when they are trying to access the food they need to succeed.

More than 444,000 Arkansans are not always sure where their next meal is coming from, according to Feeding America, and more than 138,000 of them are children.

Audrey Freshwater, Arkansas state director for Save the Children, said it is estimated 20% of rural children experience food insecurity.

"And this is a projected increase higher than pre-pandemic levels," Freshwater pointed out. "Here in Arkansas, one in six households with children reported not having enough food in their homes this past year. "

Freshwater noted although they have great support from local food banks, there are barriers such as geographic isolation, lack of transportation and food deserts making it difficult for families to access reliable, affordable and nutritious food options.

She added they are combating food insecurity in rural Arkansas by providing meals to families in need. She stressed hungry children are more likely to have lower math scores, repeat a grade, come to school late, or miss school entirely.

"Since the start of the COVID pandemic, we've helped provide nearly 45 million meals to children and families," Freshwater recounted. "Here in Arkansas, Save the Children has helped distribute nearly 1.4 million meals to families who have needed it the most since the start of the pandemic."

The group partnered with a school district in Mountain View, in northern Arkansas, via the school's food pantry to provide food boxes, critical meals and snacks as well as learning resources to families such as books, learning tools and toys.

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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