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Food Insecurity a Reality in Some Ozarks Homes

Taney, Christian and Greene Counties are among the worst in the state for reliable access to nutritious food.
FORSYTH, Mo. -- Malnutrition might seem like a problem for third world countries, but the lack of a secure food source is a reality in the Ozarks.

According to the USDA's annual food security survey, Missouri ranks among the worst in the country for access to proper nutrition. In terms of accessible grocery stores, Greene, Christian and Taney Co. rank among the worst in the state. In each county, approximately one in five people don't live near a grocery store.

For students in the Forsyth school district, food insecurity is a daily reality. Dr. Brent Blevins, the superintendent of the school, said many of his students come from families that can't afford a proper meal outside of what children eat at school. He said the problem intensifies over the weekend.

"We've seen numerous students," he said, "showing up on Monday morning and literally licking their plates clean."

Forsyth and seven other districts in the county participate in a weekend backpack program through Gift of Hope, an organization that buys non-perishable goods to send home with students on the weekends. Meghan Connell runs the organization, which serves approximately one thousand students county-wide.

"Rural areas don't really have the access to grocery stores or even the food pantries we have here in Branson or Forsyth," she explained, adding that families of seasonal workers who live in motels often can't even cook for themselves. "They don't have access to a kitchen, they don't have access to a stove or any kind of refrigerator."

The USDA's recent report suggests that conditions in Missouri are improving, rating the state nearly five percent higher than in previous years. But Connell said that in Taney Co., many children are still going hungry. In fact, her organization has identified 15 hundred students in the county who need the program, meaning that approximately 500 go hungry each weekend.

"I really haven't seen any improvement within the county," she said. "Really, we've just done nothing but find out that there are just more and more children in need."
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