Clemson aiding ‘food-insecure’ families
Clemson researchers have used grant funds from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to combat obesity in South Carolina since 2018, and work continues to yield positive results despite obstacles presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Most recently, researchers and health extension agents behind the CDC High-Obesity Program have linked the outreach work of Mt. Calvary Missionary Baptist Church in Bishopville, which connects 25 local churches to aid over 500 families in and around Lee County, with Foodshare SC, a nonprofit organization based in Richland County that provides affordable, fresh food boxes across the state.
Sarah Griffin, professor in the College of Behavioral, Social and Health Sciences’ public health sciences department, said this work is just as much about fostering relationships between organizations that can help in this mission as it is about giving sound advice about healthy food choices. Griffin and other researchers involved in the CDC program are understandably encouraged with the progress made by the cooperation between Mt. Calvary and FoodShare SC in Lee County, which is just one of the areas targeted by the research.
“I grew up 10 miles away from Bishopville, so I’m familiar with the issues facing Lee County and our state,” Griffin said. “What we’re seeing is the power of cooperation to address these issues; sales of healthy, fresh food boxes have skyrocketed since February, which equates to thousands of pounds of fresh produce hitting dinner tables across Lee County.”
The project is the first faith-based, non-profit food buying cooperative in South Carolina that is approved to accept the USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and South Carolina’s Healthy Bucks benefits. Griffin said rural health team agents led by Michelle Parisi, director of the Clemson Cooperative Extension Service Rural Health and Nutrition Program Team, have been instrumental in helping participating groups secure permission to accept SNAP benefits and Healthy Bucks as payment.
Without these forms of payment, it would be less likely that lower income households would participate in the program.
The Mt. Calvary-Foodshare SC partnership allows Lee County residents to purchase low-cost, top-quality produce. A typical purchase consists of a family-sized box filled with 12-15 varieties of fresh fruits and vegetables, with the contents changing each month. Participants can purchase boxes monthly by using either cash or SNAP/EBT. If purchased with cash, these boxes cost $15. If purchased with SNAP/EBT, $5 is charged to SNAP benefits and $10 is charged to SC Healthy Bucks.
Wanda Green is one of the rural health team agents charged with addressing the lack of healthy food access and physical activity in Lee County. Green said the interventions made possible by the Mt. Calvary-Foodshare SC partnership come at a crucial time for Lee County, whose residents face many barriers to healthy living.
Lee County has an adult obesity rate of 40 percent, and 21 percent of the county residents qualify as food insecure. Exacerbating both these issues is the fact that 30 percent of Lee County residents have income levels below the federal poverty threshold, and this rate is only increasing as unemployment takes its toll due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This partnership has proven to be a viable, low-cost option for fresh fruits and vegetables that any resident of Lee County can take advantage of,” Green said.
“The partnership places special emphasis on addressing the issues faced by low-income families when acquiring fresh, affordable food, and we believe it can serve as a model for other counties and areas around the state.”