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If you had to choose between food and gas for your car, or between food and the roof over your head, what would you choose? Every day, those served by Ozarks Food Harvest and its network are forced to make these tough choices. Food insecurity in the Ozarks continues to be too high, but Ozarks Food Harvest is helping. And you can, too. Together we can solve hunger in the Ozarks.


Hunger in the ozarks


In order to solve hunger in the Ozarks, we first must understand it. Who faces hunger? Where do they live? How do they cope?

Ozarks Food Harvest continually strives for a better understanding of hunger. Ongoing studies — administered by the nation’s food bank network, Feeding America — explain where people encountering hunger live, specific hardships they face and strategies families use to cope with food insecurity.

  • 17%

    In southwest Missouri are food insecure

    meaning they don't know where their next meal is coming from

  • $10k

    Average annual household income

    of families served by Ozarks Food Harvest and its network

  • 67%

    Of households served by Ozarks Food Harvest

    must choose between paying for food or utilities

Map the Meal Gap

Map The Gap

Feeding America embarked on the Map the Meal Gap study to identify the need for food within each community across the nation. The goal of this study was to provide a clearer picture of need in southwest Missouri in order to help Ozarks Food Harvest strategically plan for food assistance programs that best support southwest Missourians in need.

Latest data: With updated Map the Meal Gap data in hand, Ozarks Food Harvest has learned that the need for food assistance in southwest Missouri continues to be too high. More than 172,770 individuals living in southwest Missouri, or 15.4 percent, continue to face food insecurity. They are unsure of where their next meal will come from and unfortunately, 28.6 percent of these individuals have income levels that disqualify them from receiving government assistance.

Families in Ozark and Shannon counties experience hunger the most — they have food insecurity rates around 21.8 percent. Other counties with higher-than-average food insecurity rates are Oregon, Texas and Wright. In fact, Pulaski County is home to many families who are not eligible for any federal assistance. There is no government safety-net to help more than 46 percent of the food insecure families through hard times.

The Map the Meal Gap study also focuses on child food insecurity rates. Based on 2019 data, it was revealed that 16.9 percent (43,490) of southwest Missouri children face food insecurity. That’s one in five children — and higher than the Missouri average of 14.8% — who face uncertainty finding their next meal and may go to bed hungry.

In Oregon, Ozark, Shannon and Wright counties, more than 25 percent of all children worry about where their next meal will come from. Many of these children eat free meals at school and their families receive SNAP (food stamps) and WIC benefits; however, 15 percent of food insecure children in southwest Missouri are not eligible. That means 6,436 children in Ozarks Food Harvest’s service area must rely entirely on charitable assistance, such as Ozarks Food Harvest, to eat their next meal.

These children, families and seniors would undoubtedly struggle even more without help from Ozarks Food Harvest and its supporters.


Map the Meal Gap – OFH Service Area


Hunger in America


This study provides an in-depth look at who is in need, how the need is met and by whom

The Hunger in America quadrennial study of hunger has been conducted by Feeding America since 1993. It provides an updated estimate of the number of people served annually, within food bank service areas, which increased from 155,000 individuals in the Ozarks in 2010, to more than 261,000 individuals in southwest Missouri in 2014. Those numbers are unduplicated people receiving assistance by the network throughout the year.

Read the full report

families in the ozarks still struggle to afford food

This is in part thanks to the slow recovery of the economy. Hunger in America 2014 revealed Ozarks Food Harvest and its partner agencies continue to serve thousands of people. This study provides much needed data to support the stories we’ve been hearing over the past year. The economy has experienced an unusually slow recovery since the deep recession, and many families still struggle to afford food. The nation has experienced higher-than-average inflation and the rising cost of food. While unemployment rates have declined, many workers at the bottom of the labor market have not seen a real increase in wages for many years.

Read OFH's Executive Summary

2014 Hunger in America Study - Cover

The average person helped by Ozarks Food Harvest may not be who you’d expect.

They are most likely white, age 30-49, with 2-3 members in their family. These parents have high school diplomas and rent or lease a home. Their annual household income is less than $10,000, making them face food insecurity each month. They have medical bills to pay and make the hard choice between paying for food or medical care. Sometimes, that choice is between food and utilities.

Their child is likely age 6-17 years old and participates in the NSLP (National School Lunch Program), which allows them to receive free meals at school. This means the family has to provide an extra 5-10 meals each week during the summer when school is not in session.

These parents would like more fresh fruits and vegetables. They are forced to purchase inexpensive, unhealthy food to make ends meet. Most of all, they expend a great deal of effort to piece together solutions that reduce the likelihood of hunger in their household.

Agency Staff: An estimated 77 percent of the food bank’s partner agencies reported employing paid staff. The median number of paid full-time-equivalent staff (assuming a 40-hour work week) was 4.

Program Volunteers: A median of 11 volunteers provided a median of 76 volunteer hours each week.

Reducing Services: Some member agencies experience economic conditions and other circumstances that impact their ability to provide food and services.

  • 20 percent of member agencies reported they had to cut back on services in the past 12 months
  • An estimated 8 percent of agencies reduced hours of operation, 6 percent laid off staff and 14 percent limited the geographic area served.
  • 82 percent of clients report that no longer receiving food from The Food Bank would have a major effect

Additional Hunger Research



The Missouri Hunger Atlas visually engages readers to better understand hunger in Missouri. Through a series of indicator maps and tables, the Atlas details the extent of food insecurity in all 114 Missouri counties and the city of St. Louis. The Atlas also assesses the performance of a host of public and private programs intended to help people struggling with hunger. The detailed profiles of counties served by OFH are available.

View by County

USDA Food Deserts

Food deserts are defined as urban neighborhoods and rural towns without ready access to fresh, healthy and affordable food. Instead of supermarkets and grocery stores, these communities may have no food access or are served only by fast food restaurants and convenience stores that offer few healthy, affordable food options. The lack of access contributes to a poor diet and can lead to higher levels of obesity and other diet-related diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease.

USDA Food Desert Map

Implications of HUNGER

Although hunger is harmful to any individual, it is particularly devastating to children. Their increased vulnerability and potential for long-term consequences makes this issue imperative to address. Food insecurity among children impacts cognitive development, school performance and has health consequences, including increased illness and higher associated health costs.


Child Food Insecurity - The Economic Impact on Our Nation 1

executive-summary-in-short-supply 1

In Short Supply

The In Short Supply: American Families Struggle to Secure Everyday Essentials research project found that many American families struggle to afford basic non-food household goods — including products related to personal care, household care and baby care — and, as a result, make trade-offs with other living expenses and employ coping strategies to secure essential household goods.