$100K grant to fight child hunger in rural SD County

The Jacobs and Cushman San Diego Food Bank distributes fresh produce in the rural area in the mountains near San Diego./Jacobs & Cushman San Diego Food Bank

San Diego may seem like a wealthy area, but the mountain communities in the eastern part of the county still struggle with hunger and poverty.

Now, a new $100,000 grant from Save the Children’s Innovation Lab will fund the development of a program to mailboxes of shelf-stable food to low-income rural families, starting next year.

Anahid Brakke, president and CEO of the San Diego Hunger Coalition, said the program has been a big hit in other communities.

“The parents said, ‘It’s like Christmas.’ The kids feel like it’s Christmas, you know, they get this food box; you know, it’s for them,” Brakke explained. “It really helps supplement the whole household.”

A team from the San Diego Hunger Coalition is at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, this week to learn best practices from other communities. The funds will also be used to train community health navigators who can help people sign up for programs like CalFresh and WIC.

Esther Liew with Save the Children says food boxes that arrive by mail provide rural communities greater access to nutritious food.

“There’s little public transportation in rural communities, meaning that they then have limited access to grocery stores and places where they can get fresh and nutritious foods,” Liew pointed out. “That makes it really difficult to provide the food that they need for their children and their family members.”

Hunger Coalition data showed about 35% of children in the Mountain Empire region live in poverty, which is nearly triple the rate for the rest of San Diego County.

In a recent community food survey of local residents, almost three-quarters said they would run out of food at some point in the last 30 days and did not have the resources to buy more.

San Diego Hunger Coalition in California, which will be working in the rural Mountain Empire region to raise awareness of how to access and influence local food assistance, through Hunger Free Navigator training and resources. It will also be working to increase CalFresh (SNAP/Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) participation through school engagement, and planning for a 2024 home delivery program.

“We are honored to be selected by Save the Children for the incredible opportunity to be part of their Rural Child Hunger Research & Innovation Lab. With support and guidance from Save the Children and Baylor University, San Diego Hunger Coalition will be able to build upon and expand our collaborative work in the rural Mountain Empire region of San Diego County, where more than 1 in 3 people are living in poverty,” saidAnahid Brakke, President & CEO of the San Diego Hunger Coalition. “We are particularly excited about the possibility of bringing Baylor University’s successful Meals to You summer food program to the region, with the goal of scaling it up to reach all children in San Diego County’s rural communities.”

With existing child hunger solutions not fully addressing the unique challenges facing rural communities, Save the Children announced five new, innovative projects that will work to reduce child food insecurity in some of rural America’s hardest-to-reach, most impoverished communities. Led by community organizations across five states, the projects have been selected and funded by Save the Children’s newly-launched Rural Child Hunger Research and Innovation Lab, and will begin implementing in the coming months.

Nearly 90 percent of counties with the highest food insecurity rates are rural, and 1 in 5 rural children are facing hunger. Save the Children launched the Innovation Lab this past fall, to cultivate game-changing ideas into large-scale solutions that work to eliminate child hunger across rural America, ensuring kids have regular access to nourishing food. At the time of the September launch, Save the Children initiated the Lab’s first annual open call for innovative ideas from community organizations across the country. The five selected community organizations – or 2023 lab grantees – were chosen after more than 100 organizations expressed interest in participating.

“Geographic isolation, lack of transportation, and limited access to stores with fresh food are making it very difficult for many rural families to give their children the nutritious meals they need to grow and develop,” said Betsy Zorio, Vice President of U.S. Programs for Save the Children. “Rural community organizations and leaders across the country are rising to meet the challenge of food insecurity in their communities every day. With the Rural Child Hunger Research and Innovation Lab, Save the Children wants to inspire and embolden these organizations and leaders, to help make food more accessible, affordable and dignified for rural families nationwide. We are excited to bring the inventive ideas of the 2023 lab grantees to life, to help ensure rural America’s kids get the nourishing food they need to thrive as learners and in life.”

Save the Children’s partnership with the Innovative Lab grant recipients includes providing the funding to design, test, pilot and incubate their innovative ideas. In addition, the Baylor Collaborative on Hunger and Poverty will evaluate the initial implementation of the chosen projects.

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