Now, the group’s purpose, focus, and organizational makeup have been restructured to address the current barriers of the food landscape in Chatham County in key areas of food access, affordability, transportation and trust issues.
It is estimated that 35,000 Savannahians live more than a mile from a grocery store. In Chatham County, 17.6% of all residents are food insecure and 21.8% of children are food insecure.
Several listening sessions were held across the county in recent months to receive community input. An inaugural meeting to launch the newly reconstructed Food Policy Council was held late last year and the group has scheduled a second meeting for January 18. Next, its members plan to seek an audience with the Chatham County Commission and the Savannah City Council to ask for their support of proposed policies to improve healthy food access and equity.
“The Food Policy Council is poised to serve across sectors and accomplish major improvements in our local food system,” said Armand Turner, deputy director of Healthy Savannah. “But we need local ordinances that outline the mission of the SCFPC and its responsibilities. We need those policies to acknowledge the Food Policy Council’s important role in making policy recommendations to advance food access.”
Turner says the group plans to address the County Commission at its January 19 meeting and the City Council on February 22. They will introduce the Food Policy Council and its board to the local legislators and explain why the SCFPC needs their support.
“We will be asking the County Commission and the City Council to consider new or revised policies that improve equitable food access efforts,” said Turner. “We are also seeking their help in establishing a robust and resilient food system that is in line with community priorities and does not cause a disproportionately negative impact on the farms or food businesses located in our low-wealth neighborhoods.”
“We know what to do, now we just need to do it and that starts with asking our local governments to enact policies that bolster our mission to make the healthy choice the easy choice through policy and systems change,” said Paula Kreissler, executive director of Healthy Savannah. “From establishing and supporting community gardens to enacting food service guidelines at schools, hospital cafeterias, and for catered public events, City and County regulations can be very instrumental in driving change.”
Turner says the Food Policy Council’s overall goals include addressing issues and working to resolve barriers that deter access to healthy foods. Those efforts might include ensuring healthier options are available for children at area schools and for the community at corner stores.
“Our first two Savannah Chatham Food Policy Council meetings were well attended and those conversations revealed great insight as we work to re-establish the group with the community’s help,” said Kreissler. “We want to share those insights with City and County leaders and ask them to support this effort, which has been spearheaded by a diverse group of community members, organizational and agency representatives, policymakers, farmers, academia, and students, in conjunction with food system experts.”
Kreissler says the SCFPC will initially focus on identifying and addressing the community’s top food system priorities; advocating for food policies centered on equity; and collaborating with other local, regional, state, and national efforts that seek to improve healthy food access.
“We need a Food Policy Council that is trusted by, connected to, and empowered by community residents,” said Turner. “Collaboration and support from City Hall and the Chatham County Commission are paramount to our success as we work towards addressing food insecurity throughout the entire county. We look forward to productive conversations with our local leaders to help drive continued momentum.”
Approximately 45% or 129,698 of the almost 290,000 people living in Chatham County live more than a mile from the closest grocery store, according to a 2021 study, Food Deserts in Chatham County, Georgia. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines a food desert as a region where the people who live there have limited access to healthy and affordable food, such as fresh fruits and vegetables.
ABOUT THE YMCA OF COASTAL GEORGIA/HEALTHY SAVANNAH GRANT FOR RACIAL AND ETHNIC APPROACHES TO COMMUNITY HEALTH: In September 2023, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention awarded a second grant called Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health (REACH) to Healthy Savannah and the YMCA of Coastal Georgia. $5.1 million in funding is being deployed over a five-year period to be utilized in an “upstream” approach to foster sustainable health equity among racial and ethnic minority populations in low-wealth neighborhoods in areas of nutrition, physical activity and the reduction of chronic diseases. The renewed funding enables work to continue which began under the initial, five-year, $3.4 million REACH grant awarded in 2018, and a supplemental grant awarded in 2021 to increase awareness and acceptance of COVID-19 and flu adult immunizations. Working with more than 200 community partners and organizations, the Savannah/Chatham County project team’s specific goals in implementing the new five-year grant include fostering physical activity by creating greater access to safe places to walk, run, bike and play; elevating the health and wellness of the community through policy, systems, and environmental change; and providing education and awareness regarding adult immunizations, especially as they relate to health disparities in chronic conditions of hypertension, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, and obesity. The administrators will also continue to foster stronger connections between people and the healthcare providers who serve them by supporting awareness and use of the HERO Help Me database. In July 2022, Healthy Savannah received the CDC’s 2022 REACH Lark Galloway-Gilliam Award for Advancing Health Equity Challenge. The award recognizes extraordinary individuals and entities whose work has contributed to advancing health equity.
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