Building Meaningful Relationships With Community Residents To Address Food Insecurity In Rural Kansas

In rural Kansas, the Kansas Health Foundation is supporting five community coalitions to build more meaningful relationships with community residents across racial justice and economic lines in order to better identify and address community priorities and needs, and begin to develop resident-led food systems efforts.

The Kansas Health Foundation leveraged funding from the Convergence Partnership to help build and amplify community power toward equitable policy advocacy in five communities in Kansas. The Foundation invited five existing Kansas coalition partners to apply for additional resources to develop creative activities around authentic resident engagement, equity, and food systems work. Spanning rural, frontier, and urban communities in Kansas, the local coalition groups focused on the ‘precursors to policies’—the relationships between underrepresented residents and decision-makers in a community through a racial, economic, and health equity lens. The populations of focus across the communities included low-income Kansans, Latinx neighborhoods, and residents with limited access to food. Each coalition received funding to conduct engagement activities that would build greater trust and relationships between coalition members and community residents. Community residents, along with each local coalition, were encouraged to identify small projects to improve food systems and health equity in their communities. The Kansas Health Foundation in turn used the Convergence Partnership funds to leverage additional local community foundation dollars to support these “resident-led philanthropy” projects. A project coordinator was engaged to meet with each of the local coalitions in person and gain greater insight into activities that could be funded to make more progress in more communities across the state to further reduce health inequities.

Convergence funding in 2018 and 2019 allowed the Kansas Health Foundation to support five community coalition partners to build capacity to progress along a continuum of authentic resident engagement: from working for residents to working with residents, to resident-led community efforts. Importantly, this ongoing process of strengthening relationships and trust is creating more opportunities for resident inclusion along racial, cultural, and economic lines. Outcomes across the communities of focus include: previously disconnected Spanish-speaking residents in a rural community are now more frequently invited to participate in local school and community events; another small community relied on their local library to convene a series of increasingly successful community conversations about food access, local production, and social determinants of health and equity; an urban health coalition turned over a portion of its project funds to an “engagement specialist” in a rural community in their own county to navigate cultural and structural sensitivities and build trust and relationships across factions in this community, and a local county health coalition in a mid-size Kansas city supported a group of bilingual Spanish speaking women who were taking on new leadership roles around food access issues.