Healthy Places NC coalitions responded to the threat of COVID-19 in force to meet the rising needs of their communities. Their work has taken on new forms as they face uncharted challenges such as:
- How do we expand our services three-fold in the next few days?
- How can we provide heightened safety to paid staff, volunteers, and clients, many who represent those most at risk to COVID-19?
- How do we navigate impacted supply chains?
- And, how do we find ways to deliver food to those unable to leave their homes?
Their collaborative efforts over the past eight years positioned them to deal with deep unknowns that 2020 brought our farmers, food pantries, gardeners, colleges, government agencies, and nonprofit advocates. Below are some snapshots of the outstanding work accomplished over the past month by the various healthy eating volunteer networks across the state that were forced to innovate their methods to support their neighbors most in need.
The Just Foods Coalition in Edgecombe and Nash Counties met to fill the communication gaps about what was available, what was happening, and what still needs attention. Conetoe Family Life Center and other ministries began delivering groceries, while Ripple Effects is supporting Conetoe’s work through further distribution from the farms.
The Down East Partnership for Children kept their childcare centers open for essential workers in need of emergency childcare and partnered with Golden Organic Farm for direct sales and Community Supported Agriculture boxes. Those same partners began working with the school systems to enhance the Summer Feeding Programs to better support hungry children and families in need.
The members of the Beaufort County Healthy Eating Active Living Collaborative, the local food council, are pooling grant funds from different sources to purchase produce boxes from local growers and provide a gas stipend to volunteers distributing to their most vulnerable neighbors. They are also using funds to support Cooperative Extension’s bucket garden program by translating information into Spanish.
Other collaborative members, like Eagles Wings Food Pantry, Cornerstone Family Worship Center, Eastern Community Care Foundation, and Agape Health Services have adapted their food, nutrition, and counseling work to keep their clients, staff, and volunteers safe. Alpha Life Enrichment Center in Beaufort County has donated hygiene and cleaning supplies to emergency hunger relief organizations across central and eastern North Carolina. They are also feeding frontline healthcare workers at Vidant Beaufort Hospital regularly, serving over 400 plates each time. In addition to this, a grower who usually sells at the Washington Harbor District Market has started offering contactless produce delivery direct to Beaufort County residents and has been offering other farms’ products as well.
In Halifax County, A Better Chance, A Better Community (ABC2) activated their Rapid Response Team. In addition to small grants to college students now unemployed, ABC2 has ramped up their regular community feeding operation. They now serve 500 plates each week from Enfield to Gaston to Scotland Neck and are partnering with local farmers and chefs to create the meals. ABC2’s “World Changers” sponsored a virtual series for young people to engage with local experts on COVID-19. Additionally, Kayla Taylor, the new director of the Roanoke Valley Community Health Initiative has helped to organize their network’s response as well.
Across the state in McDowell County, the leadership of the Local Food Advisory Council (LFAC) began meeting weekly to move more quickly, more safely, more intentionally, and more broadly to address the tremendous increase in requests. LFAC successes include:
- Local partners collaborated on the Bucket Garden project which allows families to grow fresh produce at home.
- With assistance from Centro Unido Latino-Americano, LFAC developed a Food Resource Guide in Spanish and English to be distributed throughout the community for those in need of food. This resource guide was distributed to residents as part of the Bucker Garden project.
- LFAC launched a county-wide food drive to help meet the surge in demand experienced due to the coronavirus pandemic. The food drive was a response to challenges in purchasing food in bulk quantities required to keep up with the rising need in the county. Participating grocery stores in McDowell place a barrel at the front of their store for shoppers to consider a ‘buy one, give one’ food drive.
- LFAC has coordinated, acquired, and managed many of the financial resources and support to purchase food and supplies for the Foothills Food Hub. Community and local contributions can be made here, and the Gateway Wellness Foundation will make a dollar-matched contribution to their cause.
In addition to the above successes, The Foothills Food Hub convenes Operation Feeding McDowell weekly to ensure that all people of McDowell County are fed during this time of uncertainty. In partnership with McDowell Access to Care and Health, McDowell Transit, McDowell Cares, McDowell Local Food Advisory Council, along with teams of dedicated community volunteers, the Foothills Food Hub has packed, distributed, and facilitated access to thousands of food boxes, hundreds of hot meals, and emergency food outreach throughout the county. The Foothills Food Hub is uniquely positioned to adapt and respond to emerging food needs in the community. Emerging and immediate needs have included serving those who are recently unemployed, living in outlying rural areas, seniors, and those facing any transportation barriers.