Olympia Pacesetters 4-H Hunger Ambassadors and Emergency Mini Food Pantries

4-H members are the catalysts to stamp out hunger throughout our rural community.

Our rural school district, which our club serves, covers 4 counties with a population of 353,590. The average poverty rate for the counties is 10.25%. Our school district is 377 square miles and includes 9 communities, of which 8 are food deserts. Our district reflects the national statistics of 2.4 million rural households facing hunger. Each community has seen an increase of students who rely on free and reduced lunches. Our 3 elementary schools participate in weekend backpack programs. Our 4-H club packs lunches for 1 of those schools whose number of backpacks provided have doubled this year. There are 6 operating food pantries in those communities, but only our town of Stanford has Emergency Mini Food Pantries(EMFPs) which we built and have successfully maintained for a year to provide food 24/7. Two additional towns have asked that we replicate those in their towns. 4-H club members will build 10 EMFPs, working with other community organizations in our fight against hunger.

We know that the cost of making a sturdy, weatherproof, latching Emergency Mini Food Pantry(EMFP) with adequate lighting and signage and community awareness would cost $1000 each. We plan to install 10 of these EMFPs throughout our rural school district representing 9 communities and the high school and middle school, which are located outside of a town. With the EMFPs available 24/7, we need to keep them fully stocked at all times to provide enough food for people to make meals. We will collaborate with organizations in each community to train them about the types of nourishing meal kits in which to stock the EMFP. We will provide them with $1500 each to purchase food specifically for this purpose. Oversight of each EMFP will then be transitioned to the collaborating organization over the course of a year. The 4-H club will continue to maintain relationships with each collaborating organization and offer assistance if needed.

We are addressing a current need of hunger in our rural community, but national and local statistics show that this will be a growing trend. We know how much of a lasting impact a project like this can affect a community. An 18 year 4-H club with 50 youth ages 5-18, we began a food pantry 12 years ago in Stanford. We began a community garden 11 years ago due to the need of fresh produce and education for 4-Hers in horticulture projects. Four years ago we expanded the garden to include a pollinator garden. Last year we built and began operating Emergency Mini Food Pantries to allow food accessibility to all people 24 hours a day. We now have 2 operating in our town of 500 people. We also built a food produce stand available to all. Based on our history and interest in fighting food insecurity, this is our next expansion into surrounding communities within our school district. The requests from 2 communities to expand into their towns show us a need to further engage in this project.