Texas Hunger Initiative receives grant to help combat hunger

The Texas Hunger Initiative was awarded a $ 3 million dollar grant from the Walmart Foundation to help continue addressing hunger in schools. Photo credit: Photo courtesy of Kasey Ashenfelter

Rylee Seavers | Staff Writer

The Texas Hunger Initiative (THI) has received a $ 3 million dollar grant from the Walmart Foundation to help their efforts to combat hunger in Texas.

THI is a capacity-building organization, meaning that they work with other organizations to increase collaboration and use existing resources efficiently, director of THI Dr. Kathy Krey said.

THI works at the local, state and federal level to combat hunger through community engagement, developing policy and research, Krey said. It started out with an emphasis on combating child hunger, Krey said, but has extended its work to address hunger affecting families and senior citizens.

“That’s what makes THI really unique, being housed at a university, is that we can connect all of Baylor’s great resources to the larger social issue of hunger,” Krey said.

THI is part of Baylor’s “informed engagement” initiative, working with faculty and students to conduct research, Krey said.

In 2015, the USDA reported that Texas was one of 12 states with a food insecurity rate higher than the national average. Krey said that this is not due to a lack of resources, rather that the existing resources are underutilized, not well coordinated or not well-known. THI helps fight those problems, Krey said.

THI’s work is innovative, sustainable and research based, Krey said, which is one of the reasons that it received the grant from the Walmart Foundation. The grant will allow THI to continue outreach for child nutrition programs like school breakfast and afterschool meal programs and will help THI build coalitions in communities throughout Texas. These coalitions consist of bringing organizations and people together to maximize the efficiency of these programs.

“When you can be more efficient and get more coordination, then that can go a long way as a really effective model for addressing hunger at the local level,” Krey said.

Craig Nash, THI’s child hunger outreach specialist for Waco, works with organizations and school districts to aid school meal programs. His main goal is to expand access to these programs. Nash said that THI is unique because they act as a middleman to connect organizations.

“I want as many kids as possible to be eating lunch through the summer food service program, through school breakfast program and after school meals,” Nash said.

Krey said that being based at Baylor allows THI to work with passionate students and faculty across many disciplines to develop innovative solutions to hunger. Krey also said that there can be a disconnect between organizations trying to combat the issues of poverty and hunger and universities that have expertise on the issues.

“It can be hard to bridge that gap between those two, and we stand in that place which, I think, is an important and needed role,” Krey said.

In addition, Krey said that they have seen the impact of their work through a decrease in the food insecurity rate in Texas. Since THI was started, 300,000 more students are eating breakfast at school each day, 10 million more meals are being served at after school programs and there are 2,000 more summer meal sites in Texas, she said.

“We play such a unique role in the anti-hunger landscape that’s really exciting, and it’s really needed because we help bolster and increase the efficacy of those organizations on the ground that really are trying to meet the need right in front of them,” Krey said.