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Tackling food insecurity in our home states

Improving food access is just one of the ways the Wellmark Foundation is fulfilling its mission to improve the health and well-being of Iowans and South Dakotans. In 2022, the Wellmark Foundation was proud to support local organizations promoting greater food access with more than $780,000 in grants and project funding. Here’s why that matters:

Food security is key to good health

Consistent access to affordable, nutritious food — known as food security — is an essential part of maintaining good health. Yet, according to the USDA, more than 34 million people across the country, including nine million children, are food insecure. That means every community nationwide is home to individuals and families for whom healthy foods are physically or financially inaccessible.

The negative mental and physical health impacts of food insecurity are well documented. Because it can refer to both a lack of nutritious food and the overconsumption of unhealthy foods, food insecurity is associated with higher risk for chronic conditions such as obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol among adults, as well as increased risk of anxiety and depression. For developing children, not having enough to eat can lead to developmental, behavioral and social issues in addition to poorer educational outcomes.

Due to these connections between food and health, food insecurity is increasingly acknowledged as a public health issue. By reducing food insecurity, we can improve health and quality of life in the communities we serve.

A growing problem in Iowa and South Dakota

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, food pantries saw a surge of need in their communities. However, even as the pandemic wanes, hunger-relief organizations report rising need among seniors, people with disabilities, and young people.

More than 304,000 people in Iowa and South Dakota are food insecure. While both states have lower rates of food insecurity compared to the national average, the impact on the well-being of individuals and families can be devastating. Amid economic uncertainties, rising food prices and the mounting cost of living, more families are being forced to make difficult choices between food and other necessities, like housing and medical care.

Our home states also face additional geographic challenges. While every community across the country has individuals facing food insecurity, rural areas are especially hard-hit. According to 2020 Census data, 43 percent of Iowa’s population is rural, while 52 percent of South Dakota residents live in non-metropolitan areas. Living in rural or remote areas creates unique challenges that can make affording food more difficult, including lack of transportation, underemployment, and limited transportation options.

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Combatting Food Insecurity:

Consistent access to affordable, nutritious food is an essential component of good health. Yet thousands of individuals and families across Iowa and South Dakota face food insecurity each year.

More than 304,000 people face food insecurity in Iowa and South Dakota.

1 in 13 Iowans are food insecure. That's more than 229,000 of our neighbors, including 80,000+ children.

1 in 11 South Dakotans are food insecure. That's more that 74,000 of our neighbors, including 29,000+ children.

How we’re making an impact

Projects funded through The Wellmark Foundation will each play a role in reducing food insecurity by enhancing local food production and building capacity for healthy food consumption. In 2022, project funding helped to expand the number of school food pantries, develop community gardens, increase food access for veterans and seniors, and enable mobile food deliveries.

The organizations supported by The Wellmark Foundation include:

  • City of Atlantic, Iowa (Mollett Park Community Garden Expansion) — Atlantic, IA
  • CommUnity Crisis Services — Iowa City, IA
  • Dalla Terra Ranch Foundation — Earlham, IA
  • Des Moines Area Religious Council — Des Moines, IA
  • Eat Greater Des Moines — Des Moines, IA
  • Food Bank of Iowa — Des Moines, IA
  • Makoce Agriculture Development — Pine Ridge Reservation, SD
  • NewBo City Market — Cedar Rapids, IA
  • Public Space One — Iowa City, IA
  • St. Vincent de Paul — Des Moines, IA
  • WesleyLife Community Services, Inc. — Des Moines, IA
  • Youth & Family Services, Inc. — Box Elder, SD

Our ongoing commitment to better health

We recognize that many of the greatest barriers to living a long, healthy life aren’t only medical or genetic, but shaped by our social and economic circumstances. Like access to healthy food, factors such as our distance from doctors and hospitals, access to good schools and safe places for kids to play, and even whether our communities are struggling economically, all influence our ability to be and stay healthy.

That is why The Wellmark Foundation works with like-minded organizations to jointly improve the health of our communities.

The health impacts of food insecurity

Food insecurity is associated with several negative health impacts including:

  • Increased risk for multiple chronic health conditions
  • Higher likelihood of developmental impairments and social and behavioral problems among children
  • Greater risk of anxiety and depression

Want to know more about the work Wellmark is doing to drive change?

By focusing on community health, Wellmark aims to make a long-term impact to the lives of the people living in the communities we serve throughout Iowa and South Dakota. 

Making a difference

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Iowa and South Dakota map illustrating locations of grant projects:

South Dakota - Box Elder, Pine Ridge Reservation

Iowa - Atlantic, Earlham, Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, Iowa City.

In 2022, The Wellmark Foundation announced more than $780,000 in project funding to improve access to healthy food.

The Wellmark Foundation funds initiatives that improve health and well-being of Iowans and South Dakotans. Since its inception in 1991, The Wellmark Foundation has awarded more than $63 million in grants and special project funding to initiatives that positively impact communities across both states.