HPHC Coalition Eat Smart Move More Spartanburg County Talks Recent Successes, Impact of COVID-19
Eat Smart Move More Spartanburg County, housed at Partners for Active Living, a non-profit organization that works with other partners to create healthy eating and active living options for their community, is one of the ten Healthy People, Healthy Carolinas coalitions funded by The Duke Endowment and supported by SCHA.
Part of a statewide network of Eat Smart Move More organizations, each individual group’s work is a combination of advocacy, community action, youth engagement, and consumer awareness, all designed to bring lasting and healthy change to local communities. The Spartanburg chapter focuses specifically on obesity prevention and promoting changes to policies, systems, and environments that increase opportunities for healthy eating and active living for all county residents.
SCHA caught up with Healthy Communities Coordinator and Food Systems Coordinator Alissa Duncan, AICP, to chat about the coalition’s successes and how their approach and efforts have changed due to the impact of COVID-19. Below is an edited version of that conversation.
How has COVID-19 impacted the work of Eat Smart Move More Spartanburg?
We began focusing much more on emergency food. We already have relationships with some Spartanburg County Emergency Food Providers, so we just switched our focus to COVID-19. I am also involved with some other food system-related organizations locally and statewide, so we were able to coordinate actions and information with those organizations in regards to emergency food as well.
Our implementation funding strategy also shifted. Thanks to the Duke Endowment’s Healthy People, Healthy Carolinas initiative, we had a budget for evidence-based interventions through December to prevent and reduce obesity in Spartanburg County. Originally we had planned to focus on out-of-school time and youth, worksites, and food/health. But just before we were going to decide what interventions to fund, COVID hit, and so our worksite focus didn’t make sense. Out-of-school time also didn’t make much sense, so some of that we are holding on to until we see what happens with schools and childcare. The majority of our funding went towards getting healthy food to folks and promoting healthy eating behaviors.
How has it impacted the community members you serve?
Emergency food providers are seeing a large increase in the number of people seeking food. Many of these folks are people the providers have never served before. And the providers themselves are facing challenges obtaining food. Some of them depend on grocery stores and food banks for donations, but those places are struggling to keep their shelves stocked. At the same time as they are serving more people, their volunteer base has shrunk. Some of their volunteers are in the high risk group, and they really depend on their volunteers to move and pack food. So some providers have actually cut their hours. They have also found it challenging to obtain PPE and cleaning supplies.
What would you consider are your effort’s greatest successes this year in terms of community health improvement?
I think one of them is probably supporting FoodShare Spartanburg. During the past nine months that we have been supporting this intervention, FoodShare Spartanburg has more than doubled their distribution sites as well as the number of boxes they are distributing. FoodShare Spartanburg sells a box of produce (half of which, in terms of value, is local) that contains $20-$30 worth of produce for $15 cash or $5 for those using SNAP. They distribute these boxes through several sites around Spartanburg, including some emergency food providers. When they connected with one of our Coalition members, the Housing Authority, they started distributing at their sites as well.
One of the most remarkable aspects of FoodShare Spartanburg is that they distribute through healthcare providers. This is a sea change for healthcare, and I believe in the future we will see a lot more direct connection between healthcare providers and healthy food access and information.
Another one of our successes has been engaging our Coalition members. We are learning together, we are talking through issues together, and we are applying information together. At our most recent meeting we discussed launching a communitywide HE|AL (healthy eating, active living) campaign and what that would look like. Folks chimed in one after the other about what they would do to promote the issue through their organization. It was heartening and inspiring!
Do you have a particular example that exemplifies the work you are doing that you would like to share?
We are open to innovation and trying new things. Systemic change has to start somewhere, and the solution doesn’t always exist or maybe it hasn’t been implemented in your particular community. But the change has to be piloted to be proven. We were presented with several challenges when COVID-19 hit. Our global food system was failing us. Our grocery store shelves were bare. Farmers who typically sold to restaurants and institutions suddenly found themselves out of a buyer. They plowed their fruits and vegetables into their fields because they didn’t have the connections or infrastructure to sell their harvests. This was happening at the same time that people were losing their jobs and the lines at our emergency food providers were lengthening. We wanted to get healthy food to the people most in need and we wanted to support our local food businesses. So we began buying produce from local businesses beginning with a farm stand-type market and taking it to emergency food providers. We wanted to learn how this process of buying food locally and taking it to our providers would work so that it could be a permanent piece of infrastructure in our community. Our local food infrastructure in Spartanburg is lacking, so this program was meeting multiple goals at once. We are stepping back and taking our learnings into account to decide how to move forward, but we have purchased and distributed thousands of pounds of fresh produce so far.
For more information about HPHC coalitions, click here.