The Lowcountry Food Bank Wellness Pantries Address Health and Well-Being

by Jenny Ryan Nutrition Program Coordinator, Lowcountry Food Bank

The Lowcountry Food Bank (LCFB) in South Carolina works collaboratively across 10 counties to ensure the people we serve have access to necessary food and resources to break the cycle of food insecurity. The Hunger in America 2014 study presented the hard facts that the prevalence of chronic disease impacts our clients in high numbers. Because 75% of individuals we serve choose between medical care and food, and 78% of households are affected by high blood pressure, often the daily decisions made to manage adequate health perpetuate the cycle of food insecurity.

Access to resources, such as health insurance, can help decrease the number of clients who have to make difficult choices with managing health concerns. As of 2017, 9.9% % of U.S. adults are uninsured and in our 10 counties, that number jumps to 16.5%. Knowing that access to health care can mitigate the cycle by improving disease management, decreasing hospital stays and absenteeism from school and work, it is as important as ever to ensure our partner food pantries and agencies know how to guide the people they serve and connect to resources.

Recognizing the cycle food insecurity as complex, each client has their own unique needs and the LCFB works to ensure they can make decisions for their family to alleviate the burdens of poor health. This is accomplished through shifting agency environments and facilitating partnerships that address individuals’ overall well-being. The LCFB initiated and implemented a Wellness Pantry program model in 2017 to address these issues. Evidence-based environmental and promotional supports, along with direct nutrition education, are employed in key agencies to influence individuals’ selection and preparation of food.

In addition to addressing hunger, Wellness Pantries are connected with organizations that work to eliminate barriers to accessing federal benefit programs. These organizations train agency volunteers or send trained volunteers to the partner agencies to enroll clients in identified programs while maintaining a comfortable and familiar space. With the support of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education (SNAP-Ed), the LCFB nutrition education team has trained 28 partner agencies to adopt the Wellness Pantry model.

One Wellness Pantry has shared the positive changes they are seeing in their community. This organization works to increase community outreach and brings together faith-based organizations in their area to offer regular client support five days a week. The agency leader said, “Since we have adopted the Wellness Pantry model and have integrated Cooking Matters direct nutrition education, clients have started to network with each other and share their experiences and solutions to their many barriers.” Their volunteers have been more engaged as well, recognizing their important role in empowering individuals they serve with more than just food.

The barriers many in our community face are multi-faceted. By providing a welcoming, safe space to access resources their families need, from food to federal assistance programs, we can alleviate some of those barriers. Through a combination of community collaboration, environmental strategies and direct nutrition education, individual needs can be addressed holistically with the goal to get out of the seemingly endless cycle of food insecurity.

Blog post written by Dana Mitchel, Lowcountry Food Bank Director of Nutrition Initiatives and Jenny Ryan, Lowcountry Food Bank Nutrition Coordinator.