South Carolina-Based Organization Creates Access to Healthy, Fresh Foods With Affordable Produce Boxes

FoodShare South Carolina is aiming to improve food security and fruit and vegetable consumption for communities in Columbia, South Carolina that face limited access to fresh, nutritious foods.

The organization operates by creating a once or twice monthly bulk produce box that includes 10 to 12 varieties of fresh produce and a recipe card for healthy cooking suggestions. FoodShare SC also participates in the state’s Healthy Bucks program, which allows Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients to purchase a wholesale produce box for US$5, while Healthy Bucks funding pays for the remaining US$10 cost of the box.

“Our statewide network uses a community-based approach that demonstrates that FoodShare is more than just a box of food,” Wilson tells Food Tank. “Our goal is to improve the health conditions of those in underserved areas of the state through food access and work together to dismantle oppressive systems that both cause and hold poverty in place.”

While working as a Certified Diabetes Educator, Beverly Wilson, Co-Founder and Executive Director of FoodShare SC, created the nonprofit in 2015 with her colleague Carrie Draper, after learning that many of her patients could not afford to buy fresh food. Wilson and Draper decided to develop FoodShare SC as an alternative produce distribution and nutrition program within the University of South Carolina School of Medicine. Across South Carolina, 18 nonprofit organizations have replicated FoodShare’s model and have distributed over 160,000 food boxes, comprising over 3 million pounds of produce since 2015.

A 2020 report from the Rural & Minority Health Research Center and the Sisters of Charity Foundation of South Carolina finds that nearly half of the state’s residents—approximately 2.3 million people—live in areas of low food access. In Richland County, where South Carolina’s capital, Columbia, is located, 12 grocery stores have closed in low-income areas since 2016. And according to a report from the Food Equity Subcommittee of the City of Columbia Food Policy Committee, the availability of grocery stores and the foods they sell vary by demographic, more stores carrying a greater variety of fresh fruits and vegetables in white and affluent parts of the city.

The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) shows that food insecurity and diabetes disproportionately affect Black South Carolinians. Diabetes, for example, is more prevalent among non-Hispanic Black adults, reaching 16.2 percent, compared to 12.9 percent among non-Hispanic white adults.

“We can’t talk about access without talking about race. There’s no doubt that these grocery stores that have closed since 2016 are in low-income Black neighborhoods,” Omme-Salma Rahemtullah, Director of Advocacy and Policy at FoodShare SC, tells Food Tank. “We need to really look at the disparities within our community based on gender, race, and income. These are intertwined issues, especially in the South where the legacies of slavery are still ever-present.”

To tackle these disparities, FoodShare SC programming also works to address accessibility issues in the state’s urban and rural areas. The organization aims to reach more families with its Fresh Food On-The-Go project. In collaboration with the Central Midlands Regional Transit Authority—known as The COMET—FoodShare SC offers public transit passengers with busy schedules the opportunity to connect to fresh produce at a popular bus station on specified days.

Another of the organization’s current initiatives, NeighborShare, uses a fleet of volunteers to deliver their fresh food boxes to the most vulnerable residents in several counties of the Midlands, a region that stretches across the center of the state.

Reverend Kevin Russell Sheppard, Sr., the Pastor of Mt. Zion Baptist Church, has worked closely with FoodShare SC to increase food access in rural communities around Chapin, SC, a town approximately 24 miles northwest of Columbia. Through outreach with church members, Reverend Sheppard and other community volunteers began serving single parents and seniors outside the Columbia city limits. Reverend Sheppard also distributes FoodShare SC’s recipe cards with members of the church, to help the community stay healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic.

FoodShare is also trying to build a coalition with other organizations to advocate for long-term funding for Healthy Bucks in the state. In the future, the program is also considering creating a no-cook produce box ideal for low-income college students. Wilson tells Food Tank that FoodShare SC hopes to continue addressing “individual’s needs from a holistic perspective.”

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Photo courtesy of FoodShare South Carolina

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