To charitable foundations on the frontlines of urban poverty, the notion of rural America may conjure up an image of green pastures, fruitful farmland, and hard-working nuclear families who are self-sufficient and don’t need outside assistance.

That image is not only false, it is keeping critical philanthropic dollars from some of the nation’s most longsuffering individuals and communities. The latest U.S. census shows that 55 million people, or 20 percent of the population, live in rural...


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