Baylor professor receives $5 million grant from USDA

Dr. Krey's grant money will go towards a research project aimed at improving food security for children during the summer. Nathan De La Cerda | Multimedia Journalist

By Tyler Bui | Staff Writer

Dr. Kathy Krey, assistant research professor and director of research and administration for Baylor’s Texas Hunger Initiative (THI), has been awarded a $5 million grant from the USDA.

The grant will be used to fund a three-year research project that will improve the accessibility and distribution of food for students living in rural parts of Texas during the summer.

Krey said that one in five children suffer from food insecurity in Texas, which is higher than the national average. While federal nutrition programs provide supplemental meals to children, she said many students are unable to access these meals during times outside the school year.

Currently, students who qualify for supplemental meals can receive them through the Federal Summer Food Service Program during the summer. This program allows students to receive meals in a congregate setting such as schools, churches or community non-profits. However, Krey said that many students are unable to utilize these resources and are left food insecure during the summer.

“If you compare the number of kids getting free or reduced-price meals at lunchtime at school with the number of kids who are participating in the Federal Summer Food Service Program, there is a dramatic gap,” Krey said. “That tells us that there’s a big need being met when you have the convenience of the school day, but then is not being met in the summer.”

Krey said a big problem with the program is the lack of transportation for students to receive the meals.

“Transportation is a huge barrier that we have found […] because as you can imagine, trying to get to a meal site when you don’t drive, and especially when you live in a rural area, is a big barrier,” Krey said.

Krey and her colleagues at the Texas Hunger Initiative have created an innovative solution to make meals more accessible for rural students in the summer through a meal delivery program.

West Chicago, Ill., graduate student Andrea Skipor worked as an intern at the Texas Hunger Initiative. She said the program is important because it can give students living in rural areas access to proper nutrition.

“Summer is one of the biggest times that [students] can’t get the nutrition they would get during the school year, so reaching these rural communities is so important and that’s what this project is able to do,” Skipor said.

With this grant from the USDA, Krey and her colleagues at the THI are able to test a new program where selected students living in rural parts of Texas will receive supplemental meals through mail delivery by UPS and USPS.

“The [meals] are delivered in a box. It has things like rice and beans, low-sugar juice boxes, dairy products, milk, fruit cups and a variety of boxes of cereal,” Krey said. “When the families receive them at the start of the week, there’s enough items for them to create breakfast, lunch and snacks out of the items that are in the box.”

Beginning last summer, a small-scale version of the pilot program was launched, where over 33,000 boxes were delivered to rural students over the summer. Krey said the project will expand over the next two summers and will hopefully serve as an aid to the Federal Summer Food Service Program.

“We really see this as an innovative project to supplement existing federal nutrition programs, rather than replacing. We learned that needs are so great, and communities and families are so different that it’s really hard to imagine a one-size-fits-all solution,” Krey said. “It really takes all of us working together and it takes multiple kinds of innovative solutions. By doing that, we can reduce duplication, fill gaps and do a better job of alleviating hunger.”