10-Minute Maps: Which schools should still serve food on snow days?

Why this question matters

For some children, nothing quite compares to the joy of waking up to snow on the ground and cancelled classes. But for others, school closings for bad weather may mean missing out on a much-needed nutritious meal. In the parts of the country where winter hits the hardest, many school districts are keeping the doors open to feed neighborhood students breakfast and lunch. Other school districts have begun to maintain food service during the summers or regularly distribute bags of food to children from qualifying families to ensure they have enough to eat over the weekend.

In 2011, The National Center for Education Statistics estimated that 48% of all students in the United States were eligible for the National School Lunch Program. Eligibility is based on income: children in households with incomes at or below 130% of the federal poverty level are eligible for free school meals while children between 130% & 185% qualify for reduced-price meals. In 2013, more than 21 million children nationwide ate free or reduced-price lunch because of this program. But that number is steadily increasing nationwide; in Missouri alone, over half (51%) of all students qualified and enrolled in the free and reduced lunch program during 2016—compared to 41.7% of all students in 2007. A growing portion of the children in our country rely heavily on the meals provided by their schools, and their hunger doesn’t get to take a snow day.


When and where to use this map

It’s with these kids in mind that the Data Storytellers at mySidewalk have created a map to help you quickly identify schools to consider keeping open for food service during snow days. For mySidewalk communities with milder winters, this map can also be used to determine areas to target childhood food insecurity using your choice of intervention. Whether you’re partnering with local food banks to feed hungry kids, or have a school district that qualifies for federal reimbursement, this map is a helpful jumping-off point for finding areas with high poverty and children with low access to healthy food.

The map below shows census tracts where at least 50% of families are below poverty level and at least 50% of children lack access to healthy food nearby. Create this map for your community in mySidewalk.

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How to create the map in 10 minutes

Watch the screen recording or follow the steps below.

  • Open a report in the mySidewalk app and create a new map. Click Add mySidewalk Data Layer and select your city’s geography. Select Census Tracts as your sub-geography in the drop-down menu.

  • Select Style by Data. Using the search feature, add “Families Below Poverty Level” data. We’ll want to normalize this (using the drop-down menu) by “Total Families” and display the format as “Ratio as Percent.”

  • Click the Filters tab and select Add a Filter followed by Add a filter for Families Below Poverty Level per family. Scroll to the bottom of this menu, find the Filter Type drop-down menu and select Percentile. From the Operator drop-down, select At Least and manually input the Value as 50. This will leave you with census tracts with the most concentrated Families Below Poverty Level.

  • We’ll now filter those census tracts to find the ones that also have kids with low access to healthy food. Click Add a Filter followed by Select a dataset. Using the search function, find the dataset “Children with Low Access to Healthy Food.'“ Add the data titled “Children ½ Mile from Access to Healthy Food.” Normalize by “Time Series: Population Under 18 (Children) - 2010” and the Format as “Ratio as Percent.” Change the Filter Type to Percentile. From the Operator drop-down, select At least and manually input the Value as 50. Once filtered, select Done to return to the main menu. You now see your census tracts that have the highest concentration of families under the poverty level and children more than ½ mile from healthy food.

  • (Optional) If available, add a point layer for the schools in your community to see the ones that fall within or near these census tracts.

This is a quick and powerful map that you can create on your own in 10 minutes or less! We hope it’s a helpful and quick tool for finding kids at risk of going hungry when school is not in session. If you would like help getting started, connect with your Customer Development Manager.