The initiative is starting out by researching Missourians’ current food access— especially in communities of color and rural communities. It intends to address policies and structures in place that may limit access to healthy, culturally relevant food.
Katie Kaufmann, a senior strategist at the Missouri Foundation for Health, said MFH wants to address the root causes of food insecurity rather than its symptoms.
“What you have access to eat is a huge contributor, whether it’s your your physical health, your mental health, you know? Your well being overall can really be shaped by the food that you have access to,” Kaufmann said.
The initiative has a 20-year time commitment, plus a year of preparation, which is novel for the Foundation. Kaufmann said it may not seem immediate, but the work is meant to address decades old problems.
“True systems change, especially an effort working to reform and reimagine hundreds of years of consolidated and exploitative power, requires a generational commitment,” Dr. Dwayne Proctor, MFH President and CEO, said in a press release. “We’re not just looking at this issue from an individual hunger standpoint, but an overhaul of an entire system – from growers and farmers to grocery store clerks and all those who work to provide us with the food we eat each day – so we can build an equitable and just food system that nourishes us all.”
This is MFH’s first initiative fully scoped under Proctor. The Foundation recently concluded its previous initiative Healthy Schools Healthy Communities.
According to Feeding America, a nationwide network of food banks, pantries and meal programs, one in nine Missourians face hunger. MFH found up to 860,000 Missourians are estimated to not have enough nutritious food to meet their daily needs. This disproportionately impacts Black, Indigenous, and Latino people, as well as immigrants, people with disabilities, rural communities, older adults, and people with low incomes.
“There are gaps currently, and it’s not the fault of the individuals who live in those communities. Certainly this is a breakdown of the institutions that are supposed to be serving communities,” she said. “And so really working to build up resources reinvest, bring more development and wealth to Missourians who haven’t had access to it.”
MFH is starting with research and building partnerships with other organizations working to combat food insecurity across the state. It will also work with local food banks and pantries to improve quality and variety of foods. As the project develops, they plan to invest in new programming and publish policy recommendations.
“This is going to be the work of a generation to really adjust the systems, recalibrate, to be more equitable and sustainable for Missourians long term,” Kaufmann said.
The Foundation’s new initiative will also focus on raising awareness and simplifying access for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which Kaufmann said MFH found about 10-15% of Missourians who qualify for it don’t take advantage of it.
Kaufmann encourages Missourians to reach out to MFH to provide any information about food access limitations. MFH will use the input to recommend future programming and policy changes.