Food banks serving rural communities are stepping up to address skyrocketing rates of food insecurity and intersecting health challenges. Along with disparities like a lack of access to health care and public transportation, the health of rural communities is affected by a history of oppressive practices and disinvestment that make it more difficult to access nutritious food.
Consequently, Americans living in rural communities are more likely to die from heart disease and stroke than their neighbors in urban communities1, due in part to a high prevalence of key risk factors including high blood pressure2 which can be managed by eating healthily.
In Rochester, Washington, 23% of residents live in poverty and experience food insecurity. With only a single grocery store, residents have to travel to a neighboring town to find more affordable foods. To overcome transportation challenges, ROOF Community Services, the only food bank and community services provider in the rural Rochester area, delivers monthly boxes of produce and other food staples to over 2,000 individuals.
In collaboration with the American Heart Association, ROOF Community Services has adopted a nutrition policy that will formally guide their procurement, donation preferences, and distribution of food for 700 Rochester-area families (2,000 individuals) each month. The policy was adopted in May 2022 and will guide ROOF in prioritizing healthy options that reflect the diversity of the community, including the growing Hispanic population.
Our team worked with ROOF to learn about community needs and develop a policy that emphasizes the role that access to nutritious, culturally relevant food plays in health equity, especially for individuals living in rural communities. The policy utilizes the Healthy Eating Research (HER) Nutrition Guidelines(link opens in new window) to guide community donations and food procurement and outlines a commitment to increase the availability of items that promote well-being and help prevent and manage diet-related chronic diseases including fresh vegetables and fruit, lean proteins and Hispanic cooking staples. It also directs staff to avoid purchasing items that detract from good heart health, such as sugar-sweetened beverages and candy.
"At ROOF, we have always tried to offer healthy choices for our clients and we are excited to add a Nutrition Policy to our agency. This adds one more tool in our belt to help fight hunger while making our community healthier," said Kellie McNelly, Executive Director of ROOF Community Services.
To supplement the written nutrition guidelines, and ensure its sustainability, the American Heart Association and ROOF developed a donor guide which provides examples of healthy options that are most desired by food bank clients. Additionally, ROOF's food bank will display American Heart Association signage and recipes to create a health-centered environment and encourage community members to build nutritious, balanced meals.
As a part of their broader efforts to empower people by connecting them with essential services, ROOF staff also connects members to other sustainable sources of food, such as SNAP and WIC programs.
ROOF is the sole multi-service non-profit in Rochester and is a member of Northwest Harvest, Food Lifeline, Washington Food Coalition and the Emergency Food Assistance Programs. In addition to breaking down barriers to food access, ROOF's three person staff team also operates an after-school and summer program, Kids’ Place, parenting classes, community referrals, energy and rental assistance.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. United States, 2017. About Rural Health. https://www.cdc.gov/ruralhealth/about.html(link opens in new window) [Accessed 26 May 2022]
- Samanic CM, Barbour KE, Liu Y, et al. Prevalence of Self-Reported Hypertension and Antihypertensive Medication Use by County and Rural-Urban Classification — United States, 2017. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2020;69:533–539. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm6918a1(link opens in new window)