A Community of Food

MU to foster food pantry capacity, education in rural Missouri

24230836[1]Missouri is ranked seventh in the nation for food insecurity, which is the lack of money or resources to obtain appropriate foods for a nutritious diet, and has the fifth highest rate of child food insecurity in the country. Now, through a new grant, the Interdisciplinary Center for Food Security (ICFS) in the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources (CAFNR), and the Health Communication Research Center (HCRC) housed in the University of Missouri School of Journalism, will work to increase the availability of healthy foods and nutrition education in food pantries in Missouri.

The Missouri Foundation for Health has awarded MU a 5-year grant of nearly $500,000 to research and assist eight food pantries in northeast and central Missouri. The ICFS and HCRC will partner with food pantries to develop ideas and activities that can then be replicated by other pantries around the state.

Bill McKelvey, project coordinator with ICFS.Bill McKelvey, project coordinator with ICFS.

“With the economic downturn over the last few years, food pantries in the state are serving a greater number of people,” said Bill McKelvey, project coordinator with ICFS. “What we want to do with this project is to try and help the food pantries initiate programs, projects and policies to increase access to and consumption of healthy food for food pantry clients.”

Another goal of the grant is to provide gardening resources such as seeds and educational materials to help people expand their gardens or start new gardens. McKelvey says that the project will also partner with groups to provide food preparation demonstrations of less common, healthy foods.

A Concert of All Things Food

“Through our previous work with food pantries, we’ve learned that many people already have gardens and many others are eager to learn or get started,” McKelvey said. “This approach is designed to work in concert with all of the things food pantries are already doing to enhance families’ food security and self-sufficiency.”

In addition, MU plans to help create a learning community among food pantry directors, staff, and volunteers.

“The folks who operate food pantries do really great work and are very dedicated to serving their community,” McKelvey said. “Our hope with the learning community is to give those people a chance to network with one another, to learn and share ideas. Ultimately, this will allow food pantries to identify and cultivate relationships both within and outside of their communities, to give them a stronger footing over the long term.”

The ICFS and HCRC at MU are currently holding initial meetings with the first two food pantries involved in the project, the St. James Caring Center and the Shelby County Food Pantry. Plans are also underway to distribute garden seeds and information starting in March.