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Food and Agriculture

Getting Rural Kids the Nutrition They Need to Learn This School Year


Kids struggle to thirst for knowledge when they’re hungry for food. Without regular access to nutritious meals, children’s performance and behavior in school suffers.

Hungry kids are more likely to have lower math scores, repeat a grade, come to school late, or miss school entirely.

13 million children across America — 1 in 6 kids — are starting this new school year hungry. The situation is worse in rural America, as nearly 90% of the counties with the highest percentage of children at risk for food insecurity are rural.

Rural families may need to travel a few towns over, or more, to access a grocery store with fresh food, which can prove difficult without reliable transportation. And if rural communities are supported by a food bank, it’s not uncommon for that service to be provided only once or twice per month.

Save the Children staff, who lead early learning programs across rural America, are accustomed to seeing kids rush into school on Monday mornings, not to get to the day’s first class, but instead to eat the breakfast the school provides. For many kids, it’s the first balanced meal they’ve had since they left school for the weekend.

Extending a lifeline

In rural southern California, inflation and limited job opportunities have greatly impacted the ability for parents Aracely and Edward to put food on the table for their four young children during the pandemic. Save the Children’s food box distributions in their community — which include fresh produce — have provided a lifeline for their family, and the healthy recipes that come in the boxes make all the difference, Aracely said.

“Eating healthy supports my children’s brain development — it helps them learn better,” she said.

Currently, the existing solutions to child hunger are not fully addressing the need in rural America.

The strengths and resources unique to every rural community need to be leveraged to ensure no child starts the school day hungry, and it’s going to take a collaborative, strategic approach to do this on a national scale.

Together, government agencies, schools, nonprofits, and community organizations not only need to improve food distribution approaches in rural America, but uplift new, innovative solutions — for Aracely and Edward’s children, and all rural kids — so they get the nourishing food they need to grow, learn, and thrive.

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