Five-year review of End Child Hunger in Alabama details progress toward total food security

Published: May 10, 2019
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End Child Hunger in Alabama, the first outreach initiative after the Hunger Solutions Institute at Auburn University was established, has made strides in reducing the number of hungry children in the state in just five years.

As a land-grant institution, it was important for Auburn and the Hunger Solutions Institute to focus on a hunger-related issue that was impacting one in four children and youth in Alabama.

According to Alabama Possible, a statewide nonprofit organization that removes barriers to prosperity in Alabama through education, collaboration and advocacy, the rate of child hunger in Alabama decreased almost four percent in the last five years to 22.5 percent in 2018.

Since its creation in 2013, End Child Hunger in Alabama’s mission has been to identify, address and implement solutions to child hunger issues across the state. Following the first five years of intense effort toward this cause, ECHA has compiled a report detailing the coalition’s impact through collaborative work.

ECHA is a task force comprised of leaders from state government, the nonprofit community, education and the corporate sector taking collective action to end childhood hunger in the state of Alabama. Gov. Kay Ivey officially launched the ECHA campaign in 2013, and today lauds the collective’s progress.

“I have had the privilege of being involved with the End Child Hunger in Alabama campaign since its kickoff. The work being done is making huge strides in putting an end to child hunger,” Ivey said. “These are not hungry children in foreign countries, these are hungry children right here in Alabama, in our communities, urban and rural. I applaud everyone involved but especially the Hunger Solutions Institute at Auburn University for working to end child hunger in Alabama and for being a shining example to others across the country.”

ECHA’s goals include improving the food assistance safety net for Alabama’s children, cultivating a strong regional food system, building public will to end childhood hunger, increasing Alabama families’ economic stability and supporting community action to enhance children’s health, as well as preventing obesity. In every category, ECHA efforts resulted in positive change and expanded outreach initiatives to combat child hunger. Many of these successes are outlined in detail in the ECHA Five-Year Review, including significant strides in the effort to end the summer nutrition gap, increase the amount of local foods provided to schools, cultivate a strong regional food system, improve financial stability of families and promote the overall health of children.

Through ECHA’s collective action, the state’s Summer Food Service Program, Break for a Plate, nearly doubled in the last five years, serving a record 3 million meals in 2018. Participating sponsors, such as the Tuscaloosa County School System, launched Nutrition Ignition in 2017, a mobile summer feeding service program that served nearly 19,000 meals last year. The school system will soon launch the expansion Nutrition Ignition 2.0 to serve even more families in need.

In 2014, ECHA partners VOICES for Alabama’s Children and the Alabama Grocers Association joined forces to outline the need for healthy food financing in communities with limited access to fresh, healthy food. In 2018, Ivey awarded grants to seven recipients, including ECHA task force members: the Jones Valley Teaching Farm, to construct a permanent, open-air produce stand; Wright’s Market Inc., to purchase a refrigerated van to use as a mobile grocery store and rural delivery service; and West Alabama Food Bank in Northport, to launch a mobile food pantry that currently serves 50 to 80 families per day. Grants were also awarded to the Africatown Community Development Corporation, Children of the Village Network Inc., the City of Birmingham and Peoples Piggly Wiggly in Cherokee.

Additionally, because of the Break for a Plate program’s success, the United States Department of Agriculture uses Break for a Plate as a national example for best practices to expand summer food service programs. For the past six years, Break for a Plate rallies—aimed to educate local organizations about the summer nutrition gap and encourage community members to take steps to address this gap—have kicked off summer feeding in Alabama. In 2017, the Alabama State Department of Education declared May 10 as the statewide “Break for a Plate Kickoff Day.”

“While we have raised public awareness about the extent of child hunger in our state, we can look at the data to see if things are improving,” said Rhonda Mann, deputy director of VOICES for Alabama’s Children. “According to the 2018 Alabama Kids Count Data Book, the rate of food insecurity for children under 18 in 2016, compared to 2010, has decreased 4.2 percentage points. This is a win for our children.”

In Alabama, 32 percent of families with two adults and two children are operating below the living wage. Of those with one adult and two children, 86 percent of families earn incomes below the living wage. In response to these staggering statistics, ECHA partners, including the Alabama Department of Human Resources, are working to improve the financial self-sufficiency of Alabamians through a network of successful public-private assistance programs.

Alabama Extension at Auburn University’s ALProHealth—Alabama Preventing and Reducing Obesity: Helping to Engage Alabamians for Long-Term Health—supports community action in counties with obesity rates greater than 40 percent. In just four years (2014-18), ALProHealth developed and sustained 16 community coalitions with almost 125 partners. It also applied more than $7 million in funding to improve access to healthy, affordable foods and safe, affordable places to be physically active.

“In this five-year review, we are pleased to report that our collective action has shown positive impact in all of our five goal areas,” said Auburn University Hunger Solutions Institute Managing Director Harriet Giles. “Most importantly, we are so heartened to see significantly greater numbers of children having access to and participating in summer feeding, after school and alternative school breakfast programs. However, we readily acknowledge our work will never be complete as long as one child in Alabama goes hungry.”

During the next five years, ECHA’s outreach efforts will continue to grow across the state and the five major goals outlined in the 2013-18 report will continue to guide its network priorities.

For more information and to view the full report, visit www.endchildhungeral.org.

Auburn University is a nationally ranked land grant institution recognized for its commitment to world-class scholarship, interdisciplinary research with an elite, top-tier Carnegie R1 classification and an undergraduate education experience second to none. Auburn is home to more than 30,000 students, and its faculty and research partners collaborate to develop and deliver meaningful scholarship, science and technology-based advancements that meet pressing regional, national and global needs. Auburn's commitment to active student engagement, professional success and public/private partnership drives a growing reputation for outreach and extension that delivers broad economic, health and societal impact. Auburn's mission to educate, discover and collaborate drives its expanding impact on the world.