A group of local leaders and health officials are working to build a healthier Sampson County.
The University of North Carolina’s Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention’s SNAP-Ed hosted a community forum to identify strengths and opportunities when it comes to food and nutrition. Held at the Cooperative Extension building, one of the major topics was children from low-income families receiving meals in the summer.
“Primarily, we’ve been working in the county for three years and we have a number of programs that we run related to food access and nutrition,” said SNAP-Ed Project Manager Brett Sheppard.
The forum included breakout sessions and discussions about reaching out and partnering with community organizations such as libraries, srecreation group and churches when they host programs such as vacation Bible School. Participant Shawn Purvis, Clinton City Manger, said it gave him the opportunity to learn about how organizations can work together. One idea he mentioned was connecting schools and the rec department to help students who visit places such as the Bellamy Center.
“If they can get a free breakfast or a lunch, we want to make sure they take advantage of those opportunities,” Purvis said. “So if it’s directing them to the right school site or having our rec department be a site, that’s an action step we want to take to meet the need of children in our area.”
According to the organization, 75 percent of students in Sampson County were eligible to receive free or reduced meals. More than 8,000 children and teenagers were in need of meals. But when it came to youths receiving summer meals from nutrition sites, only 545 (6 percent) were served.
Community member Russell Lee said one of the challenges in rural areas is limited access of nutrition sites. He mentioned how corner stores or markets can assist with making sure children have access to food in the summer.
Tamara Baker, program manager and communications director for No Kid Hungry NC, was one of the presenters. The program is a statewide initiative of the UNC Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention and connects children to federal nutrition programs.
“We’re encouraged and aspired that there’s a lot of opportunities for children to access better nutrition in this county,” Baker said. “We’re glad that there’s people willing to pursue that who have a passion to meet that need.”
Sampson is one of several counties partnering with UNC SNAP-Ed. The others are Duplin, Lenoir, Rockingham, Orange and Warren.
“It’s always great to see the amount of passion that exist in term of getting better and healthy food to the communities,” said Jasmine Kumalah of SNAP-Ed.
Bill Kearney, community outreach manger for UNC SNAP-Ed, deals with food policy councils and issues regarding access to food. Some of the other initiatives of the organization include community gardens, community based nutrition classes and child nutrition. Currently on the goals of the organization is to introduce the program and to receive feedback from participants.
“It’s exciting work in the six counties across the state,” Kearney said. “We looked at high needs counties with lots of opportunity.”
Reach Chase Jordan at 910-249-4617. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.