SYSTEMS CHANGE TO END CHILDHOOD HUNGER IN MONTANA
Step-By-Step Plan to End Childhood Hunger
The Montana Partnership to End Childhood Hunger formed 12 years ago as a Statewide Coalition and developed Montana's first and only step-by-step plan to end hunger for kids. The plan is updated with our partners every 2 years. Click below to see the current revision, which is now in progress.
OUR 4 BUCKETS OF WORK
The Montana Partnership to End Childhood Hunger is a granting organization that supports change in all areas of the Step-By-Step Plan and also works on-the-ground in 4 key areas of the plan.
Food Systems & Agriculture
According to the Montana Department of Public Health & Human Services, 30 of Montana's 56 counties, which include more than 72,000 people, contain areas known as food deserts. USDA usually defines food deserts as low-income census tracts with a substantial number or share of residents with low levels of access to retail outlets selling healthy and affordable foods.
Today, however, many Montanans of all income levels and ethnicities live more than 40 minutes from a grocery store or other food source selling nutrient-dense food.
A portion of these Montanans have no personal transportation, relying on family, friends, and neighbors to travel and shop for them. Few areas in Montana provide community transportation.
The resulting lack of access to nutrient-dense food contributes to increased consumption of energy-dense, ultra-processed foods available from gas stations, convenience stores, and similar outlets, which are increasing in Montana. In turn, consumption of these food adds to the significant health issues in the state.
It's not just consumers who struggle. Schools and other institutions have been dropped by their mainline distributors, making it difficult for food service directors in rural areas to source food.
Montana food producers face different sorts of distribution challenge - issues that impair their ability to get their products into the Montana supply chain. This challenge includes lack of access to processing facilities.
Low numbers of Montana facilities forces Montana-produced foods that could be feeding Montanans to move into the commodity supply chain. Today, 97 percent of the food produced in Montana leaves the state.
Addressing MT's Food Distribution Challenge
At The Montana Partnership to End Childhood hunger, we are searching for collaborative solutions to Montana's food access and distribution challenges. We are bringing together up- and downstream members of the food-distribution system and holding conversations about topics like third-party freight, co-purchasing, and the need for backhauls, in an effort to build the working, sustainable distribution chain needed for nutrition security in Montana.
Many Montana kids get more than 75% of their weekly calorie intake from schools.
The quality of food kids eat impacts their mental health, including suicide ideation, attempts, and completions, as well as their physical health and school performance. These effects are lifelong with school performance later turning into work performance.
As a result, it's mission-critical that kids receive nutrient-dense foods rather than energy-dense, ultra-processed foods at school and that their families have access to nutrient-dense foods for purchase and consumption at home.
Nutrient-Dense, Culturally Meaningful Foods in Schools
The Montana Partnership to End Childhood Hunger funds projects that increase access to nutrient-dense, culturally relevant, and/or local food in schools. We also fund the development and creation of healthy, minimally processed packaged school foods that use Montana products.
These products, such as Montana Marinara and a new breakfast bar developed at Mission West in Ronan, MT:
* Compliment use of USDA National
School Lunch Program commodities; * Are specifically tailored for schools
and summer-meal programs;
* Are developed and processed in
* Include numerous foods such as
lentils, squash, beef, and cherries
from Montana farmers and
ranchers ranchers; and develop MT
food entrepreneurs, including student
Increasing Access to Indigenous Foods
The Montana Partnership to End Childhood Hunger has been working for the last since 2018 to improve access to, and knowledge about, Indigenous Foods among school food-service professionals. We also are striving to increase access to these foods in summer-meal programs. and increase access to Indigenous foods in schools and summer-meal programs.
As part of this effort, we are teaming up with partners like Team Nutrition, the Chef Ann Foundation, and the Alliance for a Healthier Generation to ensure Indigenous foods are covered in their trainings for school food service directors.
We also are raising funds to invest deeply in Tribal schools and schools on reservations to create School Nutrition Hubs and other programs to meet staff members where they're at and provide the tools they need to advance their school nutrition programs.
Finally, working with staff members of Indian Education for All and teachers participating in the program, we're laying the groundwork for increasing student knowledge about, and engagement with, Indigenous Foods.
Improve Summer Meal Access
The Montana Partnership to End Childhood Hungers (MT-PECH) strives to improve food and nutrition access by funding and supporting work that increases summer meal program participation.
When schools provide more than 75% of kids' weekly calories, times when schools are closed are tough on Montana's kids.
MT-PECH supports the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) feeding programs in rural communities across Montana. While we provided technical assistance, best-practices and other support to 103 new non-congregate feeding sites across Montana last summer, there's more work to do. Currently, children in 13 Montana counties have no access to summer meal programs.
We also are working with our partners to increase statewide awareness of USDA's new Summer EBT program, which will be available for the first time in Summer 2024. The program provides eligible families with $40 per kid per month to help end summer hunger.
Routinely eating foods that aren't nutritious contributes to chronic disease and poor mental health.
Aiding Montana Produce Prescription Programs
At the Montana Partnership to End Childhood Hunger we are funding community groups around the state as they work with healthcare providers on different models for implementing the Produce Prescription Program in their communities.
We also are working with the Montana Community Food & Agriculture Coalition, the MT Department of Health & Human Services and others to pull together a summit for these organizations and others like them desiring to improve health and healthcare in Montana with nutrient-dense foods.
We also continue to fund and work with pediatric clinics around the state that are leading the way in integrating SNAP, WIC, nutrition counseling and food-insecurity screening into their pediatric and client services. As part of this work, we are creating physician-training videos with lived experts and pediatricians who can attest to the value of these services to patients.
Our ongoing work also includes presenting to more health-related audiences about the importance of integrating nutrition, nutrition-education, and nutrient-dense Montana-grown foods and products into their services.
Supporting Food Insecurity Screening
School-Community Nutrition Hubs
In Montana, schools provide more than 75% of the calories kids consume on a weekly basis. In 2023, numerous schools were dropped by their food distributor, due to lack of purchasing power, distance from the distribution center to MT's rural schools, low volume from the distributors' perspective, and other reasons such as rapidly increasing fuel costs.
Being dropped by a distributor leaves school food service directors and communities scrambling for ways to get all the food they need to feed the kids depending on them.
To address this challenge, The Montana Partnership to End Childhood Hunger created two school-nutrition-hub pilot projects to bring schools in an area together to increase purchasing power, create local distribution solutions among schools, increase purchase volume, and build local-food-support networks among schools.
Shifting mindsets toward the goal of improving Nutrition Security, which leads to better health outcomes for all children and families in Montana, is the goal of the Narrative Change work taking place at the Montana Partnership to End Childhood Hunger.
We're working to:
Reduce stigma around food assistance by shifting poverty-centric narratives to more relevant narrative about all Montanans' need for nutrition security
Normalize access to nutrient-dense foods for all Montanans
Mainstream knowledge that nutrition quality affects the mental health and physical health of all Montanans
Mainstream the knowledge that low-quality nutrition contributes to the most common diseases and causes of poor mental health and death of all Montanans regardless of education, income, ethnicity, social status, economic status, or community location
Increase the number of health providers using nutrition narratives and nutrition practices to improve the health of all Montanans
Support inclusion of RDs in medical practices and school health programs
Provide nutrition training for community health workers and others working to create healthy Montana communities