Whether you live in a rural community or the middle of a city, healthy foods can be hard to come by. That’s because South Carolina is filled with food deserts. Grocery stores in neighborhoods and towns close all of the time due to their bottom line — sales and money — and some communities may have never even had a grocery store at all. When people can’t rely on grocery stores for easy access to produce, a food desert is born. Fortunately, teens in the 7th District AME Church are changing the landscape of their food supply.
Through a partnership between Wholespire and the 7th District AME Church, youth involved in the Young Peoples Division (YPD) took advantage of opportunities to give their communities access to healthy foods through The HYPE Project®. After learning about policy, systems, and environmental change and how the food choices a person has affect their health, many youth teams began focusing their community-based projects on community gardens.
“Church gardens seemed to be popular projects, not only for the youth but also for the entire congregation,” said Trimease K. Carter, youth engagement manager at Wholespire. “I think they are popular because youth found out that gardens are a fun, learning experience. Plus, the congregations get excited about helping with the gardens, watching the produce grow, and getting to take some home.”
During the final round of funding for YPD programs in the 7th District AME Church, a few youth teams focused on building new church gardens, while other youth teams, who were previously funded, chose to maintain their gardens based on the success of their initial garden project.
According to Pastor Clearance Mitchell from Singleton AME Church in Georgetown, SC, “Our success was in our garden beds. Although this year we endured interesting weather changes that caused some damage to our garden beds, we were still able to reconstruct and be a blessing. Although our giving numbers were lower than last year, we still were able to give fresh produce to a few senior citizens.”
In Turbeville, SC, the youth team at Oak Grove AME Church was funded all three years. Their first project focused on policy changes, like removing salt shakers from church dining tables. Church leaders approved the policy and left the youth wondering what to do next. So, they focused on educating their congregation on alternatives to salt. To do this, they decided to build an herb garden to use in taste tests and church meals as a way to replace or reduce salt. Their efforts have seemed to pay off.
“Our church is located within the stroke belt of South Carolina. Persons tend to eat an abundance of fried and fatty foods,” said Dr. Ila McFadden, YPD director at Oak Grove AME Church. “Through The HYPE Project®, our youth have helped our congregation think differently, and they have given them the desire to improve their overall health through proper diet, nutrition, and the importance of water as a beverage.”
Just like Wholespire’s mini-grant opportunities, funds awarded to the youth teams were used to purchase supplies and support their initiatives. Youth teams worked on multiple projects at the same time and took on active roles with each project. From brainstorming and setting church policies to planning and implementing healthy eating, active living, and safety projects, the youth of the 7th District AME Church YPD program truly stepped up to the plate. They showed their leadership skills and influenced not only their peers but also adults. They demonstrated what youth engagement can be for community coalitions and other youth groups in South Carolina.
For more information about The HYPE Project®, email Youth Engagement Manager Trimease K. Carter at Trimease@wholespire.org.