The Need

Groups Most Affected by Hunger

Hunger is a very serious issue in the state of South Dakota where currently, 1 in 8 people are living below the poverty level. Throughout the state, hunger affects individuals both young and old as well as entire families. Those most affected by hunger include young children, the elderly and low-income families.


Children account for 20% of the total population living below the poverty level in South Dakota. This is especially concerning because children who are undernourished are 2-4 times more likely to suffer from weight loss, irritability, and fatigue. As a result, these children may have difficulty paying attention in school and have slower cognitive development. A survey of South Dakota families in 2004 revealed that 20% of parents had children who skipped meals due to lack of money.

Food assistance programs such as the National School Lunch Program, SNAP, and the Backpack Program aim to meet the dietary needs of South Dakota youth. Without these programs, the amount of hungry children in South Dakota would increase.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as Food Stamps) provides financial assistance to low-income South Dakotans.

The amount of SNAP benefits a household receives depends upon its income, size, and allowable expenses. The number of persons receiving SNAP benefits in the United States has steadily increased from 2000 to 2009. In March 2012 over 104,000 South Dakotans were receiving SNAP benefits and the average monthly benefit per household was about $305. Almost half of the total persons receiving SNAP benefits were children aged 18 years and younger.

SNAP benefits play a significant role in the reduction of poverty and can improve the welfare of low-income families. According to an analysis of the Current Population Survey data, SNAP benefits resulted in a decrease in the prevalence of poverty by an average of 4.4 percent. In addition, the depth and severity of poverty decreased by an average of 10.3 and 13.2 percent, respectively. The positive effect of SNAP benefits from 2000-2009 was most apparent on the prevalence of child poverty, reducing the depth by an average of 15.5 percent and the severity by an average of 21.3 percent. SNAP benefits were effective in reducing the depth and severity of poverty in both metropolitan and non-metropolitan areas, with a somewhat greater reduction among non-metropolitan areas.


South Dakota’s elderly population accounts for 10% of the state’s population who receive food assistance from various programs. Often too proud to admit their need for help, elderly individuals must regularly choose between buying food, paying for utilities, and purchasing prescription medications.

Currently, there are 21 nonprofit Senior Meals providers in South Dakota. Nutrition programs for seniors are sponsored by nonprofit organizations, a local government agency, or tribal agency.  There are many distribution programs through the assistance of the USDA such as Commodity Food Assistance Program and distribution programs on Indian Reservations (FDPIR). Senior Meals offer meals Monday through Friday that are hot, nutritious, and meet at least 1/3 of an older person’s dietary needs. The meals offer a variety of food and are affordable. Elderly individuals participating in the Senior Meals program have the option to attend group dining or have their meals delivered if they are homebound.

The Senior Meals program is available to those who are aged 60 or older and their spouses or people with disabilities living in a congregate housing facility designed primarily for the elderly where a congregate meal site exists. There are 218 congregate meal sites in 66 of the 67 counties in South Dakota.


South Dakota families also struggle to provide enough food for them to meet their nutritional needs. In 2004, 19% of households indicated that over that year they “sometimes did not have enough to eat,” and 4% said, “often they did not have enough to eat”. Parents also reported cutting their family’s meal sizes in half in order to have enough for everyone to eat. The most frequently reported reason for not having enough to eat was due to the lack of money.  There are also food distribution programs for qualified families, as well. The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) provides USDA food/commodities to distribute through food panties, food banks, and congregate feeding sites.

Food Deserts in South Dakota

The USDA classifies food deserts as rural or urban areas without ready access to fresh, healthy, and affordable food. Food deserts are located all across the United States (U.S.), with the most concentrated regions being around the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains. South Dakota, along with Montana and North Dakota, has one of the highest percentages of land covered by food deserts.

In South Dakota, food deserts cover almost half of the state’s 66 counties. As a result, there is a large proportion of the state that lacks access to healthy and affordable food. In South Dakota, food deserts are located in rural communities away from large cities. State census data from 1990 to 2005 showed a decline in population in these food desert areas resulting from young adults (18-29) moving to larger South Dakota cities. Those living in South Dakota food deserts tend to have lower than average levels of education, lower household income, and higher poverty rates than non-food desert areas in this state.

Data from 2004 indicated that 1 in 3 South Dakota households lacked access to transportation to get them to a grocery store that offered fresh and affordable food. Without transportation, these individuals are unable to buy large quantities of groceries to provide for them and their families for a longer period of time. Storage of frozen foods is often an issue for these individuals since 1 in 4 doesn’t have a freezer in their household.

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