Texas Roots, Global Vision for a World Without Hunger
Since its inception as the organization’s former name – Texas Hunger Initiative – the now more aptly named Baylor Collaborative on Hunger and Poverty (BCHP) has maintained a vision of a world without hunger.
In its former iteration focused almost solely within the Texas borders, that work stayed primarily centered around Texas residents and the unique needs of the second-largest state in the country.
Fighting food insecurity and poverty led to the 2019 pilot program, Meals-to-You, a BCHP initiative to provide nourishing, shelf-stable meals through the mail to families in rural areas across Texas. Many rural Americans, far away from the nearest community or school, cannot easily access food site programs when school is out.
In 2020, that pilot program would be thrown into the fire of an extraordinary challenge – the COVID-19 public health crisis.
Following a March announcement, Texas schools were closed for what would prove to be the rest of the school year. While the pandemic put strains on medical resources, remote learning and mental health, one of the looming crises that quickly emerged was the implication of cutting off one of the most dependable sources of food for the millions of children who are fed each day in Texas’ school cafeterias.
“As we began to think that schools were going to start to close, our first thought was, ‘Okay, how are the kids going to have access to meals,’” said Jeremy Everett, founder and executive director of the Collaborative. “We were able to work with our Texas Department of Agriculture, our Texas Education Agency and school districts around Texas quickly to develop a curbside meal model where schools could essentially open up, have a little curbside takeout spot where kids and their families could drive by and pick up a sack lunch or a sack breakfast on a daily basis.”
As the pandemic repeatedly lengthened its grip around the globe, it became clear that expecting rural families – some over a 45-minute drive, one way, from the closest school meal site – to make that daily trek for basic needs and nutrition was untenable. To meet the needs of those families in rural food insecurity, BCHP was going to have to take the food to them.
In partnership with the USDA, McLane Global and PepsiCo, the Collaborative twice scaled the program nationally— now providing over 5 million meals to rural schoolchildren in 38 states and Puerto Rico.
In 2021, BCHP hired Craig Gundersen, PhD – one of the nation’s leading experts and sought-after voices on strategies to address food insecurity, with a special emphasis on publicly funded nutrition programs – as the inaugural Jim and Tammy Snee Family Chair in Food Security.
“Our work at the Baylor Collaborative on Hunger and Poverty stands on the pillars of research, policy and practice,” said Everett. “Our field staff and partners around the country are on the front lines, practicing innovative solutions for lifting the burdens of poverty on individuals and communities. And our policy team works with legislators to create more just and equitable systems. But all this work would amount to spinning our wheels without solid research and evaluation to inform what we are doing. This has always been a vital component of our work, but the addition of Dr. Gundersen exponentially elevates our status as the premier research-focused organization devoted to alleviating hunger.”
Research has been a growing focus of BCHP in recent years, including the 2019 hire of Kathy Krey, Ph.D., as assistant research professor and serves as the Senior Director of Research & Administration.
Earlier this year, the United States Department of Agriculture awarded nearly $5 million to BCHP to continue the Meals-to-You program, with the public-private partnership continuing to collect data and research to address the challenges to end child hunger.
While the scope of the Collaborative has scaled beyond the borders of Texas, Baylor and BCHP continue to serve our neighbors in Texas, both in major urban centers and across the vast expanses of rural communities and homesteads.