Baylor combats food insecurity

Breakfast really is the most important meal of the day, and the Texas Hunger Initiative is working to ensure that every child has access to breakfast with the third edition of its Texas School Breakfast Report Card.

The Texas Hunger Initiative is a statewide anti-hunger organization that is part of Baylor University, with its central office located in the School of Social Work. The initiative has 12 regional offices across the state and strives to reduce food insecurity in Texas.

Kasey Ashenfelter, director of communications at the Texas Hunger Initiative, described food insecurity as an economic measure based on a family’s income and ability to consistently access nutritious food that would lead to a healthy lifestyle.

Food insecurity is a problem facing over 17 million households throughout the U.S. In Texas, more than one in four children live in a food-insecure home.

Taylor McKinney is a hunger outreach specialist at the Texas Hunger Initiative who oversaw the creation of the School Breakfast Report Card. McKinney said the program releases the report card to provide schools, communities and organizations with information about the importance of school breakfast to students’ health and well-being.

“It also offers best practices and success strategies to assist schools in improving their breakfast programs, so anything from how to address challenges to what’s the breakfast model for a certain school,” McKinney said.

The report card covers nearly every school in Texas. It uses information from the 2014-15 school year and consists of two sections.

“The first section gives best practices on implementing school breakfast programs and alternative models in order to increase participation in school breakfasts,” Ashenfelter said. “The second half provides data on breakfast participation for schools across the state.”

McKinney said breakfast benefits students in a number of ways.

“Studies have shown that students who eat school breakfast perform better academically,” McKinney said. “They have fewer nurse visits. They also have fewer behavioral issues and their physical health is improved. They have higher vitamin and nutrient intake. They have lower probability of being obese or overweight.”

Amy Jiminez, master’s of social work student and graduate assistant at THI, said the report is significant because it shows how much progress Texas schools have made, which can help schools that still have a lower percentage of students eating breakfast to improve their programs and help more students.

“They can see that it’s possible,” Jiminez said. “They can see the benefit of it, and they can also learn how they can do it themselves.”

Ashenfelter said there are lots of ways for Baylor students to get involved if they want to help reduce food insecurity in Texas, such as by looking up the district where they went to school on the School Breakfast Report Card and encouraging their school district to contact the initiative and implement new programs if their number looks low.

“We are more than happy to answer questions and talk to students about how they can get involved either here in Waco or back in their hometown, because we have 12 offices around the state,” McKinney said.

Students can also stay up to date with on-campus events by following the Texas Hunger Initiative on Twitter and Facebook. They also have the opportunity to work with the program as interns or to go on mission trips, such as an upcoming trip to Washington, D.C. Jiminez said students on the mission trip would have the opportunity to see what hunger in America looks like and to meet with national agencies and policymakers.

“We love working with students, any way they want to get engaged,” Ashenfelter said. “We like to be creative about connecting them to opportunities.”