End child hunger by providing shelf-stable food to school children: Sufficient to carry them and their households over non-school days.

What if every child on the school lunch program could receive shelf-stable food for non-school days, especially winter and summer breaks?

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Founding Story: Share a story about a key experience or spark that helps the network understand why this project got started or a story about how you became inspired about the potential for this project to succeed.

9 years ago the founders of Childhood Food Solutions (CFS) plotted Ohio’s counties based on their students’ reading and math proficiency. Proficiency is lower where a greater percentage of children receive free school lunch. How could more lunches mean less achievement? It’s the “food gaps” on non-school days. CFS provides food for children on non-school days, especially focusing on the winter and summer breaks. Now 64% more children are proficient in reading and 48% more are proficient in math.

Which categories describe you? (the answer will not be public)

  • Self-identify race, ethnicity, or origin

If you chose to self-identify your race, ethnicity, or origin, please share here: (the answer will not be public)

Board Chair is Black; E.D. is White; about 50% of volunteers are Black, 40% White & 10% Latinx.



Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [State]

  • Ohio

Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [City]


Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [State]

  • Ohio

Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [City]

Cincinnati, Ohio, Deer Park, Ohio.

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Problem: CFS started out to improve reading and math proficiency in a low-income zip code by providing shelf-stable “filling” food for non-school days. This was logical because cognitive development requires food 365 days a year. We developed the necessary methods and reading and math proficiency improved. But educators said this could be due to better teachers, or administrators, or new teaching techniques, so our results were not accepted. Lever of change: We then started to look for other possible indicators that our “logical” program is making a difference. We now record preterm and low-weight birth rates. We had always provided sufficient food for students’ families (because students shared their food) so we were already feeding their moms and older sisters of childbearing age. If we could show an improvement in preterm and low-weight birth rates, birth hospitals would save money.

There is plenty of food in the United States but child hunger exists. Everyone experiences hunger but the hunger CFS is attacking is more properly called “food insecurity” and it occurs in households that do not always have sufficient calories to support energy requirements, cognitive development and the calming expectation that food will always be available.

The CFS solution can only be understood in the context of what happens when a household experiences periodic bouts of hunger:

Hunger impairs cognitive development.

Hunger adversely affects nutrition at the time of conception and during early fetal development before WIC nutritional support is requested.

Hunger causes WIC food to be shared among all household members. This reduces the amount of food available to unborn children during pregnancy and young children early in their lives.

Hunger leads to dangerous practices, such as gang membership, use of illegal substances and exchanging sex for food or money for food.

Hunger creates an environment in which crime thrives, such as stealing food, stealing money for food, dealing illegal substances and sex trafficking children in exchange for food or money for food.

Hunger destroys hope.

When President Obama targeted the end of child hunger, Childhood Food Solutions (CFS) had already realized that “child hunger” could not be ended without defeating its underlying cause, childhood food insecurity.

CFS began testing methods to alleviate childhood food security. Many methods were tested and found to fail to reach the neediest children. But placing sacks of groceries in the hands of children reached the neediest children.

Although many people pay lip service to the goal of ending child hunger it has not happened. I believe this is because the food support is perceived to be too expensive, and/or unfair to middle-class tax payers, and/or interfering with a poor person’s motivation to work. None of these concerns apply to the CFS methods. CFS adds less than 2% to the amount already invested in the education of a food-insecure child and does not increase taxes because savings in preterm and low-weight births conservatively provide a return on investment of 700% annually. When CFS food is eaten by adults, it provides the fuel to catch a bus, succeed in job interviews and provide sustenance when food supplies get tight before payday.

Is your model focused on any of the following traditionally underserved communities?

  • Communities of color
  • Children who are differently abled
  • Low-income communities

Does your model work within any of the following sectors?

  • Community Development and Empowerment
  • Education
  • Mental Health

Year Founded


Project Stage

  • Scaling (the solution has passed the previous stages, and the next step will be growing its impact on a regional or global scale)

Example: Walk the network through a specific example of what happens when a person or group engages with your solution.

Children write "Thank you" notes that say they share their food with family members so we provided more food so the children would not run out.

Impact: What was the impact of your work last year? Please also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

In poverty zip code 45225, CFS distributed over 100 million calories last year. Reading and math proficiency continued their improvement (now 64% gain in reading and 48% in math for grades 3 to 6). Our distribution method is unique. We say our food is for children but we provide enough for the whole household. This means that their mothers and older sisters of childbearing age benefit from our food. We therefore monitor preterm births (a big problem in Cincinnati) and last year they continued their decline. At the current rate of 16% improvement, we project 14 fewer preterm births in 2016 (vs. historic levels). Using the March of Dimes increased birth cost for a preemie ($50,000), 45225 is saving $700,000 a year. The cost of the food was about $100,000. Low-weight births have also declined (28% since CFS food).

Organization Type

  • nonprofit/NGO/citizen sector

Annual Budget

  • $100k - $250k

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is your solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

Medicaid savings for preterm and low-weight births will provide about a 700% ROI compared to teh cost of the food CFS provides.

Unique Value Proposition: How else is this problem being addressed? Are there other organizations working in the same field, and how does your project differ from these other approaches?

We are not aware of any other program where the pilot is showing a 700% return on investment for a child hunger initiative.

Reflect on the Field and its Future: Stepping outside of your project, what do you see as the most important or promising shifts that can advance children’s wellbeing?

CFS is simply proposing a modification to the USDA's school meal program to provide support for year-round cognitive development instead of only supporting school-day food and a summer food program that only reaches about 14% of teh target children.

Source: How did you hear about the Children’s Wellbeing Challenge? (the answer will not be public)

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Attachments (2)

Preterm Births are down 16%.pdf

Since CFS began providing food for non-school days to the 900 elementary-age students in Cincinnati zip code 45225, the preterm birth rate is down 16% and the low-weight birth rate is down 28%.

Students in grades 3-6 have improved in reading.pdf

Since CFS began providing food for non-school days to the 900 elementary-age students in Cincinnati zip code 45225, 64% more students in grades 3 to 6 are reading at proficiency and 48% more students in grades 3 to 6 are proficient in math.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Brittany Lothe

Tony - Food insecurity is such a critical topic for children's wellbeing. As you refine your submission, consider telling the story of a real world example of a child or family whose life has been changed for the better as a result of your important work. I would also encourage you to share a bit more on the funding sources that make your work not only possible - but sustainable. keep it up!

Photo of Tony

Nicole and Lacy,
Thank you so much for joining this conversation.
Lacy, I apologize for not getting back to you sooner. I was in the hospital for three days and lost a lot of blood due to GI bleeding. Now, I am low on energy at the most critical time of the year for our children - late July with no school and the well-meaning but ill-advised July 4 food blow-outs that cause families to run out of food even earlier than usual in the month.
My colleagues teach cooking, life skills, "waiting for sex", the evils of substance abuse, recreational activities, budgeting, etc. but these only reach children and adults by the tens, not by the thousands who are food insecure. At its simplest calculation, our zip code has an immediate food deficit in July due to 21 missed school weekdays with about 1,000 elementary school children missing 1,150 calories a day = 24 million calories. Hunger also occurs late during school months so 24 million calories is a minimal starting point for calorie replacement.
Yesterday, we distributed about 15 million calories on the streets of the zip code. We have about another 12 million calories already in sacks. We hope this will provide food support at such a high level that our food will trickle out to the majority of children (of all ages) in our low-income zip code (less than $15,000 median household income) during this week. We are scheduled to pack about 13 million more calories for next week. In our nine years of developing our systems, we have never had this much money so we hope to see improved reading gains (beyond the 64% proficiency improvement we have seen so far) and improved birth outcomes.
Lacy, you are right about lots of things affecting birth outcomes. I wonder if you could validate some analysis I have done regarding birth outcomes. For the last 1,000 births in the 12 Cincinnati zip codes where >90% of elementary-age students receive free lunch (a proxy for food insecurity), about 170 births have been preterm. In the 5 zip codes where <80% of elementary-age students receive free lunch, the last 1,000 births have only included about 115 preterm births. According to March of Dimes, a preterm birth costs $50,000 more than a normal birth. This makes a cost of $2.75 million. I forget the number but we have far more than 1,000 births a year in our 12 worst zip codes yet our program would only cost about $1.2 million a year.
Our program might only apply to the zip codes with the worst food security and might not improve birth outcomes in the <80% zip codes because of all the other factors. We only know we started with the worst zip code and this has improved 16%.

As well as the calories and the best nutrition we can afford, any food provides hope and this empowers low-income people by the thousands. Then their improvements come from within, including less need to rely on unsafe activities and more food in their stomachs to go for job interviews, hold down jobs, etc.
Our food is there before a pregnancy is recognized and WIC can be requested. Prior to conception and throughout the pregnancy, late-month nutrition is improved for a food-insecure neighborhood and there is every reason to believe (but no way to prove) that mothers-to-be experience less food-related stress (which is known to harm a pregnancy).
Individuals rarely admit how bad their hunger was before our food but sometimes they exhibit hope by their actions.

Please help in any way you can. I’ve got to stop now and distribute sacks. One location is where a volunteer stays (he was stabbed in June but not in broad daylight) so I assure my wife I will be safe there. Well, actually, I haven’t told her this time. Tony 513-910-4162.

Photo of Nicole Forsyth

Finding solutions to end child hunger is a great undertaking! Thank you for your work in this area. Have you looked into finding ways to simultaneously address the immediate needs for food in these homes and the underlying causes of the poverty that is causing the food insecurity? Can you team up/create teams to tackle this issue from multiple angles? While so needed to address the short-term need, I'm wondering what work has been done to solve the larger problem--I wasn't completely clear what role you are taking in this or how this project addresses the bigger, holistic view of wellbeing? Clearly hunger/physical wellbeing needs to be addressed first, but how are you helping these kids feel empowered to be agents of change in their community, to break the cycle of poverty and hunger?

Photo of Lacy Stephens

Hi Tony, Thank you for sharing your important work. I'm wondering if there are more direct assessments of the impact of the program, like assessment of participating families food security. It seems that changes in pre-term and low-weight birth rates could be attributed to a wide variety of factors. I appreciate your additional comments. It sounds like the potential to partner with other food access organizations could have great impact in the community. I would love to hear more about this approach and how it can enhance the important work that you are doing. 

Photo of Tony

I appreciate the feedback. I'm Tony Fairhead of Childhood Food Solutions (CFS). We want to focus on impact by partnering with other organizations, especially those involved in pregnancy support. We believe we can demonstrate a return on investment (ROI) in birth outcomes that can be explained to Congress and lead to expansion of all our programs if we combine other programs with our neighborhood nutritional support program.
CFS provides food support to mothers-to-be before conception and during pregnancy because we bring food security to entire neighborhoods. Mothers and children continue to be supported. Improvements in the rates for preterm and low-weight births will provide a ROI that Congress cannot ignore.