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Spotlight on Hunger: Access to Healthful Foods in Rural Communities

Ken Gennicks (right) helps coordinate a drive-thru food distribution at Athens Christian Church in March. 

Hunger can affect anyone, no matter where they live, but food insecurity is often more pronounced in rural areas due to the long distances required to travel to the nearest grocery store. According to data from Feeding America, rural counties account for nearly 90 percent of the highest rates of food insecurity nationwide. 

Coupled with the rising price of gas, food, and the impacts of inflation overall, rural residents in our 21-county service area have found it more difficult to find reliable sources of fresh, nutritious, and affordable food close to home. That is where Central Illinois Foodbank and our network of feeding assistance partners come in. 

The rural communities of Athens (Menard County) and White Hall (Greene County) have been further impacted by the recent closures of their local grocery stores. As a result, some residents have turned to local food pantries and drive-thru food distributions. 

“With the price of gas and the increased price of food, it's very hard for people to get to some of the stores to get what they need,” said Ken Gennicks, Lead Pastor at Athens Christian Church. Gennicks has helped coordinate a monthly food distribution at his church in partnership with the Foodbank for over a year, and credits his volunteers for making a positive impact in the community. 

“Although we have a Dollar General Store and a Casey's General Store, it isn't the same as having a grocery store that has fresh fruit and vegetables,” Gennicks added. 

For White Hall residents Rachael Wells and Kandyss Kessigner, the food they have received at drive-thru food distributions and from their local food pantries have helped ease some of the pain of traveling long distances for food, allowing them to pick up a variety of nutritious items for their families. 

Rachael Wells (left) and Kandyss Kessinger pick up food at a drive-thru food distribution in White Hall in March. 

“It's hard, especially with gas prices going up,” Rachael said. “The food helps us all, we really appreciate it. And it’s always given to us with kindness.” 

Greenview Schools Superintendent Ryan Heavner, who hosts a monthly food distribution in Greenview in partnership with the Foodbank, said his program has helped nearly 150 families every month. 

“We’ve really gotten food to people that need it, and we don’t have to worry about kids being hungry as much at night,” Heavner said. “It’s made a difference.”