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Ending Childhood Hunger in Rural Oklahoma: How Schools and Communities Are Working Together

by Emma Galles, Hunger Outreach Program Specialist

“To reach more families and feed more children, building strong community partnerships is what it is all about.” -Roe Worbes, Superintendent, Altus Public Schools. 

Collaboration is at the center of our mission at Hunger Free Oklahoma (HFO), because we believe that by collaborating with schools, families, and local organizations, it helps create sustainable support systems that empower children to thrive. Access to healthy food is critical for academic success, yet childhood hunger is still a real and urgent problem in Oklahoma. Through the SNAP in Schools project, launched in partnership with No Kid Hungry, HFO is working with schools, families, and other organizations to connect eligible families with vital resources like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). By focusing our efforts on schools, we can reach kids where they are and make a real impact in our fight against childhood hunger. This is especially important in rural areas, where hunger is 44% higher than in urban areas. With over half of Oklahoma’s public schools found in rural areas, it is crucial that we ensure they have access to the resources needed to thrive. By working together, we can ensure that all communities have access to the support they need, creating a stronger and more vibrant Oklahoma for everyone. 

HFO and No Kid Hungry are looking for partner schools to help build and pilot new training methods, SNAP outreach materials, and refer interested families for SNAP application assistance. Participating schools will help test a new toolkit and a self-paced, online, interactive curriculum. SNAP-friendly school partners will receive free outreach material, technical help, and training. Rural school districts that are interested in district-wide implementation can join a learning cohort and apply for a funded expansion opportunity.

While still in its initial stages, the SNAP in Schools initiative has already exhibited success in connecting eligible families to valuable food assistance resources, with Altus Public Schools emerging as a shining example. Altus’s principals and superintendent have played a crucial role in championing the SNAP in Schools project at the beginning of the school year, working closely with the staff to prepare and launch the outreach efforts. HFO’s resources and training were instrumental in raising awareness of the program among school staff, enabling consistent education of the program across multiple schools. As a result, school staff were empowered to take the lead in launching SNAP outreach initiatives in their schools and making a meaningful difference in the lives of Oklahoma children. 

By implementing multiple, layered interactions with caregivers, including flyers, online resources, and in-person events, we discovered that outreach efforts become more effective. At Altus Public Schools, greeters were stationed at each school entrance during Meet-the-Teacher events to introduce SNAP and distribute flyers outlining three separate ways eligible households could apply. To reinforce the message, teachers followed up in classrooms, ensuring that information about SNAP was consistently reinforced and easily accessible. This approach not only increased awareness of the program but also helped to break down any stigma or barriers associated with applying for food assistance, empowering eligible households to access the resources they need. 

Altus Public Schools built on the momentum within the district and began extending its outreach efforts in the community. Their focus on collaboration helped bring together six leader-engaged partner organizations, including the local library, to work together on local SNAP outreach. This collective effort has generated robust results, with over 150 calls from people interested in the SNAP event, and 77 households successfully completing a SNAP application. Community organizations are eager to partner with schools to help their communities. This joint effort is a testament to the power of community partnerships in addressing critical needs like hunger, and we are excited to see the positive impact it will continue to have. 

Whether you’re a school, a community organization, or an individual, there are many ways to get involved and make a meaningful impact. Here are a few ways to become a SNAP-champion for your community:  

  • Join the Oklahoma Community Partner Network (OKCPN): The OKCPN is made up of trusted organizations across Oklahoma that use SNAP-friendly strategies to make it easier for people to ask for and receive nutrition support. As a Community Partner, you will receive updates on our latest initiatives and events, and we’ll also provide you with free resources and tools to help you fight hunger in your community. To register click here.
  • Check out our SNAP in Schools interest page: If you are a school interested in learning more about our SNAP in Schools program, check out our interest page. There, you’ll find more information on the program and how it can benefit your students and their families. 
  • Become a SNAP champion for your community: Find out more about the SNAP Hotline and view resources to help get you started here.

In conclusion, we know that childhood hunger is a critical issue in Oklahoma, and we cannot tackle it alone. Our community partners are essential to the work we do, and we are grateful for your ongoing support. We encourage you to share our mission with other schools and organizations that may be interested in joining the fight against childhood hunger. Together, we can create a stronger, brighter future for all Oklahomans, one child at a time.

Working together for a hunger free Oklahoma.

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