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KERA's One Crisis Away project focuses on North Texans living on the financial edge.

Reducing childhood hunger in rural areas of Texas

school_lunch_1.jpg
Jennifer Whitney
/
The Texas Tribune
Students wait in cafeteria line for their lunch.

A cooperative initiative in Texas helped bolster the nutrition programs at 5 rural school districts.

The pandemic has made things especially difficult for children in rural communities -- especially childhood hunger.

To address this need, 'No Kid Hungry Texas' and the 'Texas Rural Education Association' awarded $150,000 dollars last year to 5 rural school districts to help bolster their nutrition programs.

Mia Medina is a program manager for 'No Kid Hungry Texas' and as part of KERA's One Crisis away initiative, she spoke with KERA's Justin Martin.

On rural schools and the challenges they face:

Child hunger is exacerbated among our rural Texas communities because they often face limited access to health care, transportation and employment opportunities.

While child hunger exists in every Texas community, we know it to be an even bigger challenge in rural parts of our state.

As many as one in poor kids in Texas face rural hunger, and in many rural communities, that number is actually even higher.

On challenges in larger -vs- smaller districts:

While urban and suburban districts have many challenges as it relates to food insecurity, with rural districts, they have added challenges related to, for example, their access to additional services that maybe urban and suburban communities have.

It's harder for community organizations to kind of come in and step in for these rural communities as well.

And I think, too, one of the things that we found before we started this program was that rural communities don't often have access to grant opportunities either because they don't know about them or because they don't have someone on their team who's dedicated to applying for grants.

On how some of the districts used the funding:

The districts used the funding in different ways that they felt would be helpful to their community.

For example, at Mexia ISD, they used the funding for carts, coolers, bags and to pay for additional labor to serve breakfast and lunch through a curbside to go model and a delivery service model during the latter part of the 2021 school year.

If you remember during that part of this school year, a lot of kids were not only learning virtually, but some were learning in the classroom too, and that took extra work on their department's part to ensure that the kids had access to the food that they needed.

In other school districts such as Mt. Pleasant ISD, they actually used the funding to improve the efficiency of their meal packaging by purchasing sealers, fruit slicers and heat sealing machines for their campuses, and they were able to serve over 850,000 meals with our funding.

Interview highlights were lightly edited for clarity.

Got a tip? Email Justin Martin at Jmartin@kera.org. You can follow Justin on Twitter @MisterJMart.

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