Legislation initiates five-year plan to update nutrition programs

thi_logo FTWBy Jordan Corona

Baylor’s Texas Hunger Initiative and the Hankamer School of Business will help decide how the state of Texas approaches summer child-nutrition programs for the next five years.

Last May, the Texas legislature approved a bill that brought together the Texas Hunger Initiative and Texas Department of Agriculture to develop a five-year plan.

Under the bill, the plan must increase statewide participation in the Summer Food Service Program. The act took effect Sept. 1.

Jeremy Everett, executive director of the Texas Hunger Initiative, said the organization is now meeting with the state’s Healthy Schools=Healthy Families advisory committee to collaborate on the plan.

“Right now we’re in an information-gathering stage,” he said. “We want our policy advocates and policy makers to make informed decisions.”

Dr. Jeff Tanner Jr., professor of marketing at the business school, is part of a two-year partnership to research after-school and summer child-nutrition programs.

He said the objective is to identify the best practices among those schools and community partners that participate in the Summer Food Service Program.

The Summer Food Service Program is a federal nutrition assistance system that works through state school districts and community partners. It provides meals to children up to age 18, feeding those who have demonstrated need and have qualified for free and reduced price lunches at school.

These operations are analyzed in terms of reach and sustainability. The study looks at how many children are fed and how efficiently that feeding takes place.

Variables in the study have to do with supply chain and distribution issues, marketing and promotion, even community integration.

“Then you have to ask, ‘Can it be replicated somewhere else? What conditions make a best practice?’” Tanner said.

The partnership recently received $2 million in grant funding from the Walmart Foundation.

In June, the foundation announced it would give $14 million in grants to nonprofits that would work toward increasing access to free meals and nutrition programs.

Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, was the primary sponsor of House Bill 749 that called for the Texas Department of Agriculture to develop a summer meals plan with the hunger initiative.

The legislation requires the state to come up with a five-year plan to increase participation in the program and access to the program in rural districts.

Last summer, seven out of 40 meals distribution sites in McLennan County served rural districts outside Waco. U.S. Census data for this year shows that 47 percent of the county’s population lives outside Waco.

Everett said part of what Texas Hunger Initiative will do with the state is capacity building, which uses research project findings to enhance the effectiveness of schools and community partners already working with the federal program.

Tanner said he wants to be part of the education. He said organizations that are feeding children after school must try to achieve both a stable supply and focus to maintain the best efficiency.