Obesity Lands in SC Phase 1b High-Risk Category

On March 8 2021, South Carolina’s COVID-19 Vaccination Plan advanced to Phase 1b. One of the qualifying criteria for those eligible to receive the vaccine during this phase is, “People with increased risk for severe COVID-19 disease”. This includes people with high-risk medical conditions ranging from cancer to Down syndrome to pregnancy. An obesity diagnosis is also one of the high-risk medical conditions listed as an eligible factor to receive the vaccine. To understand whether you qualify as someone with obesity, you need to know your Body Mass Index (BMI), as well as how to calculate it.

So what is BMI and how do you calculate it?

BMI is the acronym for Body Mass Index. It is a long-standing screening method to determine whether someone is a healthy weight. Knowing your BMI is important and there are three relatively simple methods one can use to determine this:

  1. Use an automated calculator to determine your BMI, such as this: https://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/assessing/bmi/adult_bmi/english_bmi_calculator/bmi_calculator.html
  2. To calculate BMI using a calculator, divide weight in pounds (lbs) by height in inches (in) squared and then multiply by a conversion factor of 703. For example,  weight (lb) / [height (in)]² x 703
  3. To calculate without a square function on your calculator, divide weight by height twice and then multiply by 703. For example, calculate as follows: [weight (lb)/ height (in)/ height (in)] x 703

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines any adult with a BMI exceeding 30 to be obese. In South Carolina, approximately 35% of South Carolinians are eligible for the vaccine based on BMI exceeding 30kg/m².

It has become increasingly obvious throughout the last year of this pandemic that each individual has a very different physical response to contracting COVID-19. Based on a diagnosis of obesity, the risk of contracting the virus and showing very ill-inducing symptoms is high. Click here for more information on the risk of COVID-19 for those with an obesity diagnosis.

Let’s come together as a community and do what we can to limit the further spread of COVID-19 and improve the health outcomes for those who do contract the virus.

Wear a mask, keep your distance from others, and get vaccinated.

Re-Imaging Program Delivery To Students During COVID-19

Over the past several months, you’ve heard a lot on the news and social media about the challenges educators are facing and continue to face due to the coronavirus pandemic. But, what about youth-serving organizations and programs? How are these professionals addressing their own challenges of reaching youth and continuing their programs?

“After hearing concerns from some of our Youth Summit Planning Committee members, we felt like this would be a good opportunity to convene a group of youth and professionals to discuss the challenges to providing services to students that were traditionally offered in the school setting prior to COVID-19 and exchange ideas on how to overcome them,” said Trimease K. Carter, youth engagement manager at Eat Smart Move More South Carolina.

The planning committee recommended partnering with Together SC, an organization that focuses on South Carolina’s nonprofit community, to host a two-part webinar series to help youth-serving organizations continue their important work. ABLE South Carolina, Family Connections of South Carolina, the 7th District AME Church, and S.H.E Is Me Mentoring also partnered and planned the series, Re-Imaging Program Delivery To Students During COVID-19.

Part one featured a youth panel providing perspectives of how to best reach and serve them during this time. Some of the tips they offered to youth-serving organizations included: offering programming on evenings rather than weekends, texting rather than emailing, and sending multiple messages and being persistent. Perhaps the most important tip was that youth are not on Facebook. The first webinar also featured Vicki Ladd, State School Nurse Consultant at SCDHEC. She shared considerations for working with students and youth as schools reopen.

During part two, ABLE South Carolina Director of Youth Transition Paige Maxwell moderated an expert panel where panelists shared their experiences delivering school-based programs during COVID-19. The panel included Carena Jones, school social worker at Eau Claire High School; Paige Selking, project director at Ending the Silence National Alliance on Mental Illness South Carolina Chapter; Tabitha Strickland, assistant principal at Kershaw County School District; and Amanda Metzger, director of community engagement at Healthy Learners. The panelists were able to give insight on the impacts of COVID-19 on programming, challenges to reaching students, changes that they’ve implemented, relationships with funders, and moving forward.

A recording of both webinars is available to view here.

Hunger in a Time of Crisis: Technical Assistance is Just as Important as Financial Assistance

Hunger in a Time of Crisis: Technical Assistance is Just as Important as Financial Assistance

ESMMSC Executive Meg Stanley and Manager of Policy & Advocacy Phil Ford volunteer during a food distribution in Fairfield County.

Somewhere, someplace, somehow, an Eat Smart Move More South Carolina (ESMMSC) staff member is guiding a coalition, a partner, a HYPE team, or a partner through a project or process that will lead to a better outcome. It’s called technical assistance, and it’s just one of the driving forces behind the work of the organization. Technical assistance can be many non-financial forms of help like connecting coalitions to funding, sharing information, providing training, consulting on projects, and leadership coaching. That’s what ESMMSC staff do, even during a pandemic.

“Our staff immediately saw the problems people would be facing with food access, especially the children who depended on school food. It’s the one place hungry children can rely on for a sure meal,” said Meg Stanley, executive director at ESMMSC. “We couldn’t imagine having hundreds of thousands of children sitting at home without healthy meals.”

ESMMSC convened as many statewide and local partners (over 100) to address the emergency food insecurity issues caused by COVID-19. Resources were pulled together, emergency preparedness strategies were shared, and a webpage of resources and food distribution sites across the state was published. All of this coordination, brainstorming, and action happened within two weeks with website updates and food insecurity calls continuing in the months to come.

ESMMSC partnered with Healthy Learners and SC PASOS to create Spanish language versions of the food distribution information located on the ESMMSC website.

“When Healthy Learners approached us about translating the food distribution portion of the website for the Latinx community, we said yes without hesitation,” said Stanley.  “We completely embrace diversity, equity, and inclusion, and so it made absolute sense to partner on the translation and distribute the information to the Latinx community.”

As the coronavirus lingered over the following months, ESMMSC applied for and was awarded a grant from the OneSC Fund to provide mini-grants to communities in immediate need of assistance in addressing hunger. Forty communities received funding to purchase healthy foods and personal protective equipment.

“We did not turn our backs on those rapid response grant applicants that were not funded,” said Stanley. “We connected them to other funders and other community organizations and encouraged them to pull their resources together. We were not going to leave them wondering what to do next.”

In addition to connecting the applicants to other resources, ESMMSC staff had the opportunity to provide more technical assistance to communities:

  • Assisted in securing grant funds from another source for food distributions.
  • Connected state legislators to local coalitions interested in hosting food distributions.
  • Volunteered at many food distribution events.
  • Connected a restaurant in need of donating food to a local Council on Aging.
  • Requested Healthy Blue donate bags for food distributions. And they did!
  • Shared stories of local coalitions’ food distribution efforts and how they made them safe for everyone.

“While the coronavirus has been stressful and long, it has brought out the good in people. We’ve witnessed an outpouring of love for those in need from our partners, our community members, and our elected officials,” said Stanley. “Our partners and our staff did a fantastic job leading, connecting, and making things happen in a time of crisis. We’re not out of the woods. Food insecurity remains a priority for us and our partners.”

Lancaster County Food Desert Gets Temporary Relief

Lancaster County Food Desert Gets Temporary Relief

Like so many rural areas in South Carolina, the Town of Heath Springs in Lancaster County experiences the hardships of being in a food desert and not having easy access to healthy food. With social distancing and other restrictions in place, residents were facing more difficult uncertainties regarding feeding their families.

Heath Springs leaders heard about emergency food relief through Eat Smart Move More South Carolina and used the grant as an opportunity to jump-start sustainable change in its food system.

“As we continue to navigate the current national pandemic crisis, our Community Health Initiative is compelled to extend its community outreach project by providing a Food Distribution Day in the desolate Stoneboro community area,” said Dr. Zora Denson, a retired educator and the community-relations volunteer for Heath Springs.

Approximately 125 families in the targeted Stoneboro community received fresh produce boxes that contained enough fruits and vegetables to feed 1-2 people for one week. Through this project, the Community Health Initiative created four new partnerships.

“Due to the limited mobility of residents and lack of physical access to a local grocery store, this service afforded residents the opportunity to make healthier food choices associated with good nutrition,” said Dr. Denson. “The Town of Heath Springs used the funds to pre-pay for fruits and vegetables from Rich Hill Farms and FoodShare SC, and we distributed at free or reduced cost to Stoneboro residents.”

To address the food insecurity issue in the long-term, leaders are planning to further expand their efforts by discussing potential implementation of a monthly “pop-up” farmers market. The Lancaster County Health and Wellness Commission is working with FoodShare SC to bring the program to Lancaster.

For more information about the Town of Heath Springs, visit their website. To learn more about healthy eating and active living initiatives in Lancaster County, visit the Eat Smart Move More Lancaster County website.

Neighbor Network ‘Mutual Aid’ Answers Community Calls for Help

Neighbor Network ‘Mutual Aid’ Answers Community Calls for Help

MAY 21, 2020

At the start of the pandemic when thousands of South Carolinians became jobless overnight, Mutual Aid was born.

“In lower-income communities, mutual aid happens all the time but it’s not normalized. Neighbors are always helping each other, and we’re just expanding that spirit,” said volunteer, Carla Damron.

Mutual Aid is a volunteer-based organization in Columbia with about 70 members.

“The Mutual Aid way is that we’re not really asking questions,” said volunteer, Dylan Gunnels. “We just know that you need help.”

Midlands residents in need of necessities, masks, toys and games for kids, or just a person to talk to can contact volunteers to ask for help. Volunteers can be reached through the Mutual Aid website, Facebook page, or a bilingual telephone hotline (888-927-6679).

“No questions asked,” said volunteer, Omme-Salma Rahemtullah. “You need your light bill paid? We’re gonna figure out how to get together some money.”

Once volunteers receive a request, the Mutual Aid network springs into action.

“Here’s the need. Who can respond?” said volunteer, Deborah Billings, who helped start Mutual Aid. “We’ve had responses that range from, ‘Hey, I’ll call Instacart and make the order’, and five people will pitch in $20 each and we get that grocery bill covered.”

The organization doesn’t just wait on requests. They brainstorm on a weekly basis about other needs in the community, like a gift card drive and an e-drive to meet electronic and internet access needs.

“We’re currently doing an e-drive to request if people have electronics they’re not using to donate to us,” said Rahemtullah. “Someone just actually sent me one in the mail. It’s a tablet.”

For local seniors who need a ride to the store, Mutual Aid volunteers can help.

A representative from the state’s Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) also reached out to Mutual Aid in efforts to get masks for employees and the youth at the facility. Volunteers got to work immediately to fill that need.

“There was a call out from the Lutheran Services, who works with adults with developmental delays, that they needed activities for adults to do,” said Rahemtullah. “We put it out on Facebook, this woman saw it…and she dropped off 10 big garbage bags full of yarn.”

In some cases when supplies were low to make masks, volunteers reach out to their network of friends who help fill the gap.

“I’m really amazed at how people are willing to contribute,” said Damron. “Even if you just call friends and say, ‘We have a family that hasn’t had groceries in two weeks, can you help?’ and they’re saying, ‘Sure!'”

Aside from volunteers helping financially, .  The Sabor Latino initiative is coordinated by Mutual Aid volunteer, Nelly Jolley.

Billings says Mutual Aid connected with Eat Smart Move More, and after a written proposal about Sabor Latino, the organization received a $3,000 grant to help fund the initiative. She says $25 a week can feed a family of four.

“Now in the time of this pandemic, certain resources like unemployment benefits, like the CARES Act, they are not accessible to these community members,” said Billings of the Midlands Latino community. “How do they pay for their rent? How do they pay for their food? It becomes really a critical, critical issue.”

The organization isn’t limited to donation drives or grocery delivery. They try and meet any need, such as helping in the fight for tenants who can’t pay rent due to the pandemic. Gunnels started the petition to push this conversation with state and local leaders.

“Maybe there’s the possibility of working out long-term payment plans for short-term missed payments because of the COVID situation,” said Gunnels.

If you’d like to volunteer or if you’re in need of assistance, call the Mutual Aid hotline at 888-927-6679 or visit mutualaidmidlands.org.

“We’re all feeling powerless right now facing this virus, but this is a little thing we can do to help our neighbors,” said Damron. “Everyone has something to offer.”

“I really feel like this is what we’re called to do,” said Gunnels. “I feel like we are called to love our neighbor, we are called to serve our neighbor.”