Mecklenburg County Public Health expanding programs to to address food insecurity, food deserts

Updated: May. 19, 2021 at 6:56 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - Mecklenburg County is expanding programs to get fresh food to families in need.

County officials say nearly 15 percent of households are food insecure.

It’s a challenge Dawn Neal has seen firsthand-- which is why she’s picking up food boxes for her neighbors who can’t do it for themselves.

“I go and when they can’t get out and do it, I go and distribute it myself,” Neal said.

Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners Commissioners allocated resources to provide healthier, fresher food options to high-priority areas in the county.

One of the programs is an expansion of “You SNAP, We Match,” with initial funding by Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina. This initiative allows people to use their SNAP/EBT benefits at participating farmer’s markets. They can also get “double bucks” which is a dollar-for-dollar match for their purchases.

The initiative added four new farmer’s markets to Mecklenburg County this year:

  • Valerie C. Woodard Center, 3205 Freedom Drive, operating Fridays, 2 – 4 p.m.
  • The Plaza Academy for Youth, 1000 Anderson Street, operating Wednesdays, 4 – 7 p.m.
  • North End Farmers Market, 300 Camp Road, operating Wednesdays, 4 – 8 p.m.
  • Urban Farm at Aldersgate, 4101 Somerdale Lane, operating Thursdays, 4:30 – 7:30 p.m.

“Poor diet contributes to poor health,” says Mecklenburg County Health Director Gibbie Harris. “Several issues contribute to this, including access and cost—healthy food costs more and low-income individuals are more likely to be exposed to advertising for unhealthy food, and to retail locations that sell it. Our programs work to address these issues and help ensure equitable access to healthy and nutritious foods.”

The farmer’s markets are located in underserved areas so families can get access and afford fresh quality fruits and veggies.

“Most of the grocery stores we have, they have very few of them and your fresh vegetables isn’t what it is in a lot of other neighborhoods so that’s something we’ve lacked for a long time,” Neal said.

Alonzo Hill lives in the University City area. He’s worked with families who didn’t know where their next meal was coming from.

That’s why he gardens and shares the fruits of his labor.

“What I’m producing here is for either myself and I’ll donate what comes out of the garden either to neighbors or churches in the area,” Hill.

The county is also partnering with the American Heart Association to promote nutrition education and like Hill, the county is identifying areas for more community gardens.

“As long as we’re educating folks to grow and produce fresh products and that way, the more farmers markets that we have, the more access to local fresh food that we’re going to supply to our community,” Hill said.

Mecklenburg County Public Health has partnered with the AHA to promote “You Snap, We Match” and other healthy food options throughout the priority areas in the following zip codes: 28205, 28206, 28208, 28212, 28216, 28217.

In addition, the county is working on a refrigerator pilot program through the county’s Healthy Corner Store Initiative to provide healthy vegetables, fruits, and other foods to locally-owned corner grocery stores.

Through the Edible Landscapes program, the county is identifying areas for community orchards and gardens.

The county is also partnering with Rivendell Farms of the Carolinas to implement an online food resource guide with maps, food banks, boxes, delivery, free lunches, farmer’s markets, and more.

Lastly, the county is partnering with Reinvestment Partners to continue and expand its food as prescription program model in local grocery stores.

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