Avera Health announced Wednesday a multi-year grant award to Feeding South Dakota in the amount of $160,000 to continue to provide nutritious food through its Mobile Food Pantry Program to people and families in need in communities across the state.

This is the third multi-year grant award to the program and is the largest gift from Avera Health to Feeding South Dakota since the partnership began in 2015, according to a press release from Feeding South Dakota and Avera Health.

“Avera’s mission is to make a positive impact in the health and lives of the communities and individuals we serve. Nutritious food is simply basic to health and well-being,” said Bob Sutton, president and CEO of Avera Health. “Especially during the COVID-19 crisis, we have been concerned about basic human needs and whether or not those needs are met for people in our state and region. It’s also very important to us to reach out with the compassion of Christ. This includes special attention to those who are marginalized in our society - those who work hard but still struggle to feed their families. All these factors make this partnership a very good fit.”

According to the American Psychological Association, hunger hurts children in multiple ways and can leave negative outcomes. A lack of healthy food not only leads to malnutrition, but low food security. Hunger can also contribute to toxic stress - the long, unrelieved activation of the body’s stress management system. Toxic stress can negatively affect brain development, learning, information processing and academic achievement in children. For these reasons alone adequate and nutritious food is important for children on their journey to becoming successful and productive adults in society, the press release states.

The Mobile Food Pantry began operation in January 2013 through a grant awarded by the state of South Dakota. The Mobile Food Pantry travels across the state to distribute free food to individuals and families in need. Precisely coordinated deliveries allow for the efficient distribution of fruit, vegetables, dairy products and meat proteins as well as other non-perishable food to communities that lack adequate access to quality food.

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In fiscal year 2020, the Mobile Food Pantry Program distributed 5,097,832 pounds of food, providing 4,250,000 meals to thousands of individuals and families in South Dakota. This increase of 300% is largely due to the demands placed on the organization by COVID-19 to feed more than twice the normal number of South Dakotans who were already food insecure. Feeding South Dakota has added mobile food distributions in 20 western communities, three additional communities in central and eastern South Dakota and plans for expansion into five Sioux Falls neighborhoods.

“Now more than ever, this gift could not have come at a better time. Due to the long-lasting effects experienced by so many due to COVID-19, the number of people that we typically serve has more than doubled,” said Matt Gassen, CEO for Feeding South Dakota. “This gift allows us to sustain our current distribution model and gives us the opportunity to visit additional neighborhoods and communities that could benefit from the Mobile Food Pantry Program. We invite other businesses, organizations and individuals to join Avera in supporting this vital outreach.”

A listing of mobile food distributions in South Dakota can be found at www.feedingsouthdakota.org/mobile.