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Walmart Foundation Grant Establishes Interdisciplinary Research Collaboration between Baylor's Texas Hunger Initiative and Business School

Aug. 30, 2013

Two-year, $2 million grant funds research on summer child nutrition programs and development of efficient national business model.

As students across the nation head back to school, more than a third of the three million Texas school children who qualify for federal free and reduced-price lunches at school will begin the day without a school breakfast. During the summer break, even fewer had access to federal Summer Meals Programs.

But now a team of multidisciplinary researchers with Baylor University's Texas Hunger Initiative (THI) and Hankamer School of Business - funded by a $2 million grant from the Walmart Foundation - are on track to better understand the vast landscape of summer and afterschool federal child nutrition programs and what can be done to improve them, such as through the development of a fiscally sustainable year-round business model that can be replicated throughout the nation.

"The Walmart Foundation partnership is allowing us to do two critical things at once: increase the accessibility of Summer Meals for the children who need them today; and launch an innovative, interdisciplinary study in order to maximize the efficiency of Summer Meals programs across the state for the future," said Jeremy Everett, director of the Texas Hunger Initiative. "The findings from this study will help us move toward the ultimate goal of ending childhood hunger in Texas and will also provide a strategic plan for other states to follow suit."

The Texas Hunger Initiative - based in the Baylor School of Social Work - is a collaborative, capacity-building project that seeks to develop and implement strategies to end hunger through education, research, policy, community organizing and community development. The latest grant awarded to THI and Baylor is part of Walmart's and the Walmart Foundation's $2 billion commitment through 2015 to fight hunger in America, and Walmart's 2011 initiative to provide customers with healthier and more affordable food choices.

"At Walmart, we recognize that many children rely on the meals provided at school to sustain an adequate nutrition level, and may go without after the school day ends and during summer vacation. That's why we're committed to supporting organizations like Baylor's Texas Hunger Initiative that work to ensure children have access to meals all year long," said Julie Gehrki, senior director of the Walmart Foundation. "Through Walmart's own efforts and by working with dedicated nonprofit partners to make healthy foods more accessible and affordable, we strive to help families live better, healthier lives."

The goals of the two-year research project include:

• increasing the average daily participation (ADP) rates for summer and/or afterschool child nutrition programs;

• increasing the number of participating sites of these programs to meet the needs of hungry children;

• increasing effective food planning capacity by creating a comprehensive research report on the state of Texas' summer and afterschool child nutrition programs;

• increasing the fiscal sustainability of summer and afterschool child nutrition programs for providers and their capacity to serve additional children by developing a multi-dimensional business model that can be replicated nationwide and in a variety of settings; and

• addressing the national issue of childhood hunger by partnering with the Walmart Foundation to share the actionable findings from this project.

THI researchers began initial research this summer by surveying 702 sponsor organizations that provided meals through Summer Meals Programs during summer 2012. Sponsors were asked about their plans to participate as a 2013 summer sponsor, the outreach and advertising methods they used and their perception of program successes and challenges.

Among the key THI findings:

  • 95 percent of 2012 sponsors planned to serve as sponsors again in 2013.
  • More than 40 percent of sponsors were interested in expanding their number of meal sites in 2013.
  • Almost one-third of respondents felt that their overall outreach efforts were ineffective.
  • More than 30 percent of respondents indicated that their summer feeding programs required additional funds to operate.
  • The largest perceived barriers to the sponsors' program efforts were low participation and time-consuming paperwork.
  • The largest perceived barrier to child participation was the lack of transportation to the meal sites.

"We surveyed more than 700 summer meals sponsors, finding that there are key differences in the barriers organizations experience," said Kathy J. Krey, Ph.D., director of research for The Texas Hunger Initiative. "While 80 percent of schools experienced low participation as a barrier in running their program, the top barrier cited by nonprofits was time consuming paperwork (81 percent). This informs the work of our research team and confirms that the concerns and needs aren't the same across the board. We need recommendations tailored to help sponsors run effective programs."

The survey report is available online at www.baylor.edu/texashunger/doc.php/203034.pdf.

The sponsor survey provided valuable insight as researchers in Baylor's Hankamer School of Business begin their work to develop a sustainable and replicable business model that could possibly stream the summer and afterschool federal child nutrition programs year-round. Seamlessly transitioning from afterschool meal and snack programs to summer meals programs could minimize overhead costs and provide year-round staff for implementation. The co-principal investigators leading this research effort are Jeff Tanner Jr., Ph.D., associate professor of marketing, and Charles S. Madden, Ph.D., professor and holder of The Ben H. Williams Professorship in Marketing. Madden also directs Baylor's Center for Non-Profit Leadership and Service.

"This project is exactly the type of opportunity you hope for when conducting interdisciplinary research because we're able to combine knowledge that results in powerful learning that can then be used to yield real change in people's lives," Tanner said. "It's not about us telling them how to do something; rather, it's bringing a particular lens to understanding a problem that then shapes the outcomes while at the same time, enabling us to learn more deeply about our own processes. That's what you hope for in interdisciplinary research - real innovation that flows both ways."

The Walmart Foundation grant also provides for THI to place 12 Child Nutrition Outreach Specialists in Texas Hunger Initiative offices in:

  • Amarillo (Potter County)
  • Austin (Travis County)
  • Dallas (Dallas County)
  • El Paso (El Paso County)
  • Fort Worth (Tarrant County)
  • Houston (Harris County)
  • Lubbock (Lubbock County)
  • McAllen (Hidalgo County)
  • San Angelo (Tom Green County)
  • San Antonio (Bexar County)
  • Tyler (Smith County)
  • Waco (McLennan County)

These regional Child Nutrition Outreach Specialists, working in partnership with the No Kid Hungry (Share Our Strength) campaign manager at THI who oversees all child nutrition programs, have been developing relationships and networks to increase participation in summer and/or afterschool child nutrition programs, as well as to increase the number of sites for these programs.

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