Newsroom | Community Health

  • Share to Linked in
  • Share to Facebook

Hunger Free Oklahoma staff at a community event speak with attendees about local services and resources available to families.

Securing Summer Meals for Children in Rural Oklahoma

Oklahoma ranks among the most food-insecure states in the country, and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Oklahoma is making community-level investments to ensure the state’s most vulnerable children don’t continue to go hungry.

More than 1 in 5 Oklahoma children do not get the food they require, ranking 45th for child food insecurity and 46th for overall food insecurity, according to the Oklahoma State Department of Health.

But last year, Congress incorporated pandemic-era rules into law that opened new opportunities for rural communities to provide children with free or affordable meals through the federal Summer Food Service Program.

With help from a $40,000 Blue ImpactSM grant from BCBSOK, Hunger Free Oklahoma is educating rural schools, churches, community centers and other sites about the Summer Food Service Program and guiding eligible organizations through the complicated application process.

“We want to make sure that every Oklahoma child has sufficient, nutritious meals three times a day, seven days a week,” says Chris Bernard, president and CEO of Hunger Free Oklahoma. “Right now, we know that is not happening for many kids, especially rural kids and low-income families.”

According to 2022 data from Hunger Free, 51% of Oklahoma students qualify for free or reduced-priced meals, but only 4.6% of children participate in the summer meals program.

Schools provided 20 times as many meals as usual during the 2020-2021 school year after eligibility requirements were loosened during the COVID-19 public health emergency. In response, Congress restored certain pandemic-era rules to expand opportunities for rural communities to offer summer meals to food insecure children.

“We’ve proven that it can be done,” says Treasure Standeford, senior hunger outreach program specialist at Hunger Free Oklahoma. But organizations eligible to apply for federally backed meals are often unaware or ill-equipped to do so.

Hunger Free Oklahoma is on the ground in rural communities providing the technical assistance and resources to help organizations successfully participate in the summer meal program.

Standeford, who grew up in Oklahoma relying on food stamps, knows how impactful these meals can be.

“If I didn’t have access to those food stamps it could have been a different story for me,” she says. “I know how important it is for these kids to get access.”

During summer months many children miss meals they would normally receive during the school year.

“Blue Impact grants are part of our ongoing commitment to support nonprofit organizations that focus on the health of Oklahomans,” says Stephania Grober, BCBSOK president. “We are proud to partner with Hunger Free Oklahoma and are excited to see how their innovative and impactful work makes a significant difference in our community.”

Bernard believes the efforts will have significant impact on Oklahoma’s food insecurity problem. 

“I have been in social services, education and food access for decades and I can genuinely say there are few opportunities to create an infrastructure that will have this long term of an impact,” he says. “Tens of thousands of rural Oklahoma children will have better access to summer meals.”

A Division of Health Care Service Corporation, a Mutual Legal Reserve Company, an Independent Licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association