The Ozarks. A mountainous region of landscape beauty. Rivers, rock formations and rugged terrain are classic characteristics of an area marked with deep family roots and tradition. Many people do not realize underneath this beauty lies a difficult struggle with hunger.
Families across the Ozarks are faced with limited job opportunities that are seasonal, hourly, blue-collar, and often low wage. Reliable transportation is a necessity when no public transit is available. Roads are two lanes, winding and ill-maintained. Many live in food deserts where they are forced to travel miles to access just the basic necessities.
When it comes to supporting rural communities, our food bank, Ozarks Food Harvest, struggles to find available community resources. It’s a challenge to attract committed volunteers and identify a suitable location. Where do you turn for financial resources in an area with no Chamber of Commerce, ministerial alliance, betterment society or civic groups?
When The Dunkin’ Donuts & Baskin-Robbins Community Foundation provided a grant opportunity to support school pantries, our Food Bank knew exactly where to go. For years the community and schools of Eminence, MO have been asking for assistance, and time and time again we ran into challenges. Deep in the heart of the Ozarks, the only pantry in the county was 10 miles away. This translates into a 20 minute drive through windy roads, an impossible task when faced with bad weather or a tight budget.
Unfortunately, the situation is all too common: high food insecurity rates paired with low availability of resources. Their families face tough decisions each and every day. Even children report skipping meals due to lack of food.
This is why child feeding programs are essential to addressing hunger in rural communities across the Ozarks. Oftentimes, the only way to provide for children is by being physically present within their school district. The Dunkin’ Donuts & Baskin-Robbins Community Foundation grant provided us with the resources necessary to open a school pantry at Eminence high school – an extremely hard to reach location. Thanks to their generosity, we are able to reach more children and families in need than ever before. The school pantry program enables children to receive food at any time during the school day. If their family lacks transportation, they can bring home groceries on the school bus.
Along with generous support from our donors, the issue of child hunger can also be addressed through government support. The Child Nutrition Reauthorization bill supports federal nutrition programs such as WIC, National School Lunch Programs, CACFP, SFSP and others. These programs are critical in providing the care and nutrition a growing child needs. In fact, they provide many more meals than nonprofits could through private support alone. They are crucial in allowing food banks and other charities to focus on emergency food assistance situations.
By offering better food choices and exposing children to healthier food, they have a greater chance to grow into healthy adults. They face less economic consequences due to chronic health conditions that are made worse by poor nutrition.
These children have a stronger future and the Ozarks will be a better place because of it. Feeding children does more than just provide a meal; it transforms lives, improves futures and provides hope.
Denise Gibson is the director of development and communication for Ozarks Food Harvest
*All photos used in this post provided for use by Ozarks Food Harvest