Helpful Harvest: FoodShare Columbia expands with $23,000 grant

When Dawn Grant signed up for FoodShare Columbia last year, she weighed in at 245 pounds. Today, just over a year later, she is down to 214 pounds. She also drinks more water, takes walks and promotes the benefits of the FoodShare program.

“I love this,” she said. “This is a passion for me.”

Dawn Grant, the new community outreach coordinator for FoodShare Columbia, packs boxes. (Photos by Kelly Petty)

Dawn Grant, the new community outreach coordinator for FoodShare Columbia, packs boxes. (Photos by Kelly Petty)

Grant, a Five Points resident, said she was hooked instantly when she began receiving her box of produce, and she eventually became a volunteer. It’s also helped her lower her grocery bill when comparing the price of the vegetables and fruits at a supermarket to the items she receives in her FoodShare box.

“When you go into the grocery store to buy that same produce, you’re going to pay two to three times more than you would for what’s in the box,” she said. “FoodShare is a blessing to people who actually get them because there is a lot of nutrients in those boxes.”

Grant now will share her story and encourage other residents to sign up for FoodShare Columbia with the help of a $23,000 donation from Molina Healthcare of South Carolina.

Molina Healthcare, which supports 102,000 individuals in the state through Medicare and Medicare-Medicaid health programs, provided the funds to hire Grant as a community outreach coordinator to engage families in and around neighborhoods like Booker-Washington Heights to grow the program.

“We know that food insecurity is one of the biggest issues,” said Tom Lindquist, president of Molina Healthcare of South Carolina. “When you have the opportunity to put fresh food and vegetables on a plate, keep people healthy and prevent them from exacerbating diabetes or problems with health and wellness, it’s such a rewarding thing. It’s all about the holistic view of the individual and FoodShare does such a great job doing that.”

FoodShare Columbia boxes come with several varieties of fresh fruits and vegetables, some from local farmers.

FoodShare Columbia boxes come with several varieties of fresh fruits and vegetables, some from local farmers.

FoodShare Columbia was developed by the University of South Carolina School of Medicine and the Center for Research in Nutrition and Health Disparities and launched in April 2015. The program provides fresh produce to low-income families across Columbia who lack access to nutritious fruits and vegetables.

Families pay $20 for a box of 12 to 15 varieties of fruits and vegetables, which are boxed by volunteers and delivered every two weeks at the Katherine E. Bellfield Cultural Arts Center in the Booker-Washington Heights neighborhood. Those with an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card pay $10, while the state of South Carolina subsidizes the other half of the cost.

Orders have to be placed in person at least two days prior to a Fresh Food Box pick up day at the Katheryn M. Bellfield Cultural Arts Center. Orders can be placed at the center from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and then can be picked up from noon to 6 p.m. every other Wednesday at the same location. Customers are encouraged to place their orders for the next Fresh Food Box day when they pick up their current week’s box to cut down on the number of trips they have to make to the center.

Gregg Talente, associate professor in pediatric medicine at University of South Carolina School of Medicine, said residents get a box valued at $60 and also receive recipes to help them cook the produce.

“Nutrition, exercise, the choices we make in our lives have as much or sometimes even more impact on our healthcare,” he said. “As healthcare providers we often try to educate and help people to make those good choices to impact their health, but their are a lot of barriers that people have to that — access to healthy foods, the knowledge of how to cook and prepare those foods.”

Volunteers pack and deliver produce boxes bi-weekly on Wednesdays.

Volunteers pack and deliver produce boxes bi-weekly on Wednesdays.

“You can’t solve everyone’s health problems just in the healthcare setting,” Talente added.

Within the past year, FoodShare has provided 40,000 pounds of food to more than 1,000 families. In addition to Molina Healthcare, FoodShare Columbia has partnered with Palmetto Health-USC Medical Group Columbia’s Parks and Recreation Department, the Columbia Housing Authority, Richland Library and Edventure Children’s Museum.

“We’ve gone from 24 boxes to 4,000,” said USC’s FoodShare Columbia Coordinator Beverly Wilson.

Grant said she wants more senior citizens and families who need the boxes to learn about the program so they can enroll. Her goal is to help as many people eat healthy as possible.

“ ‘What do you know about FoodShare?’ is the first thing I ask them,” she said. “I explain to them how important it is to have fruits and vegetable because they are essential to your health.”

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