This report summarizes evaluation findings, shares essential themes, and identifies key recommendations and considerations based on the 2019–21 evaluation of the Meals-to-You (MTY) program, a three-year pilot program administered by the Baylor Collaborative on Hunger and Poverty (BCHP) and funded by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). The primary goal of the MTY pilot was to test a home-delivered food box model to address the increased risk of food insecurity of children who do not have access to school meals while they are out of school and specifically students who lack access to summer meal sites in their rural communities. The first year of the pilot tested the model in multiple school districts in Texas. In 2020, the model was expanded to include school districts in parts of Alaska and New Mexico. In response to the school closures and reductions in school meal access as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the program was expanded across the country (Waxman et al. 2021). In 2021, BCHP continued the original pilot in parts of Alaska, New Mexico, and Texas. This report covers findings and insights across all three years of the pilot, and supplements the findings collected in companion reports (Gupta et al. 2022; Gutierrez et al. forthcoming; Waxman et al. 2021).
The Urban Institute is the independent program evaluator of the original three-year pilot program and was contracted by BCHP to conduct an evaluation of MTY. We found the following:
- Although the BCHP team made systems improvements in 2021, the start-and-stop nature of the MTY program meant that the new BCHP systems were not necessarily designed in consultation with the vendors that needed to connect to the program data.
- Families in rural areas that had limited internet, unrecognizable shipping addresses, or lacked valid email addresses or phone numbers struggled with web-based recruitment and enrollment processes.
- Overall, participants reported positive program experiences across all three years, though satisfaction varied based on meal component and portion sizes were not always appropriate.
- A large component of the MTY program hinged on the cadence and reliability of shipping boxes to families on time, and experiences with shipping varied substantially by program location and by year.
This report poses key considerations and recommendations for any program operated like MTY (home-delivered meals to families in rural areas) to enhance the experience of all relevant stakeholders. Recommendations span areas such as school district enrollment, participant experiences, vendor actions, and shipping issues. The most vital consideration is this: the program must be funded and planned well in advance of the summer. It takes energy, intention, and commitment from all related stakeholders to successfully implement a program of this nature, and delays can create further food instability for children during the summer.