1 in 11 Alabama Black Belt children skip meals and report hunger, food insecurity. Here’s how to help.

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A recent study conducted by the University of West Alabama found that nearly 1 in 11 black belt children face the most severe form of food insecurity, meaning they have run out of food and have not eaten for a day or more.

The US Department of Agriculture estimates that nationwide, 7% of households with children report food insecurity, meaning they do not always have access to wholesome, quality food. It is estimated that less than 1% of children live with very low food security.

What is food insecurity?

Researchers have found that parents who typically fill out the survey underreport their children’s food insecurity and miss up to 50% of children who would self-report as food insecure.

Last year, Brandon Renfroe of the University of West Alabama undertook one of the largest known efforts in the country to assess child food insecurity by asking teenagers to complete a version of the Household Food Security Survey designed specifically for teens.

Read more Ed Lab: How food insecurity affects children and families in Alabama.

Renfroe conducted the survey among 742 students in 16 black belt high schools.

The study found that a quarter of the students self-reported being food insecure, with around 9% facing very low levels of food insecurity – meaning they ran out of food and did not eat for a day or more – well above that national average.

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A history of disinvestment and exploitation has turned the Black Belt into a food desert – an area with limited access to affordable and nutritious food. And the children who live there are often the hardest hit.

But there are organizations working to improve access to food in the region and develop sustainable food systems. Alongside nonprofits, check if your local school or church has a pantry and donate to support them. Here are some recommendations of the most commonly needed items.

Here are some Black Belt organizations to follow:

1. Feed Alabama:

The organization works to end hunger by supporting a network of food banks across the state. Each tablet is located in a specific region.

In the Black Belt, the West Alabama Food Bank is continuing a program called Secret Meals this year, which provides enough food for one child every weekend for an entire school year. Families often rely on schools to feed their children throughout the week – but don’t always have the resources to cover quality meals at the weekend.

The West Alabama Food Bank has calculated that it costs $140 to feed a child for every weekend during the school year. They have partnered with businesses in many Black Belt counties to fund these programs. So far, Sumter County has raised over $3,000 – enough to feed 21 children. But schools need more funding for these programs so they can reach more students. Donations can be made through the food bank, and you can choose which county you want to send it to.

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Find ways to donate to and support the board here.

2. Black Belt Community Foundation:

“Food insecurity in the Black Belt is an issue that really affects us, especially as it affects our children and their families in all areas where we operate across 12 Black Belt counties,” said Felecia Lucky, BBCF President.

During the pandemic, the organization coordinated over 155,000 boxes of fresh produce, meat and dairy worth $6.3 million to be distributed across 16 Black Belt counties. These efforts inspired a new initiative called the Black Belt Food Collective, which is now taking off. Its goal is to develop a sustainable food collective to ensure an enduring food presence throughout the Black Belt region. The organization is now bringing together farmers, former USDA employees, college leaders, BBCF staff, farm cooperative leaders and concerned residents to serve on a planning committee to develop a plan to achieve their goal.

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If anyone would like to support BBCF directly financially they can visit their website and donate here.

To connect with activities and programs join the BBCF social media community for daily updates.

3. A Promise to Help:

The organization is a medical mission led by Dr. Sandra Ford and her husband Henry Ford. They drive to a Black Belt church on the first Saturday of every month to provide free medical exams and food packages.

A Promise to Help was first launched 20 years ago. Sandra Ford got the idea as a child when she saw a woman die while waiting for medical attention. Back then, she vowed to become a doctor and serve that region of the state that has little access to medical care or healthy food.

A Promise to Help consists of volunteer medics who join the Fords on their missions. The organization needs financial donations and services for its medical mobile clinic, medical supplies, equipment and resources for the volunteers to facilitate their efforts.

Visit their website for more information about their work and upcoming missions.

Savannah Tryens-Fernandes is a member of The Alabama Education Lab team AL.com. Her position is supported by a partnership with Report for America. Help support the team here.

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