Marion County is a small, economically restricted area with a population of 31,293 people in South Carolina. Nearly 22% of the children are obese and the same proportion are facing food insecurity. This is why the Marion County Creating Healthy Food Environments (CHFE) program was established – to address these barriers to health within our community.
The CHFE Pilot involves creating and sustaining linkages between the health care safety net and nutrition programs for the residents of Marion County. Since being awarded The BUILD Health Challenge® (BUILD) grant in October 2019, Marion County Coordinating Council (MCCC) has supported local health care organizations to screen families with preschool children between the ages of one and six for food insecurity and implemented a produce prescription program with referral to nutrition education classes and produce sources in our local food security networks. This includes partnering with local farmers, local food banks, and Food Share of Columbia, SC, a nonprofit organization that provides reduced cost produce boxes.
The CHFE Program has provided food and resources for over 8,000 residents since December 2019. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and continuing into the coming months, we are striving to supply twice our typical monthly number. We have established an emergency food bank for senior citizens, homebound patients, residents experiencing homelessness, and anyone else in need without food. Canned goods, fresh fruit and vegetables, many different types of dry goods, and even expensive products, such as fresh chicken, were provided to families, all at no cost. In addition to increasing our food provision, the CHFE Program has provided Lysol, hand sanitizer, wipes, gloves, and masks to over 3,500 citizens. We ensure that no one is left behind – community members that test positive for the virus receive food boxes and COVID-19 supplies on their porch or in their yards. We have increased our drive-thru services to operate weekly and we provide produce boxes twice a week. This would not be possible without the partnership and community engagement groundwork that we have laid through our relationships.
Food provision requires food supply. We have started six community gardens and four youth community garden projects to provide fresh fruits and vegetables for families and community members. Our residents want to learn how to prepare healthy food for themselves and their families – through the outreach of our CHFE team, the number of residents in our educational classes has nearly tripled. The scope of this program requires residents, the hospital, the health department, the members of our council, and our staff, along many other partners, to show up and work together – and they have.
I am encouraged to do even more for people with these acts of kindness and love through community care. We provided services to heroes who continued their work through dangerous circumstances. We are continuing to employ local residents, to maintain and expand our critical food provision work, and to establish local food access systems that are sustainable.
My heart and passion are to enhance the lives of all people and I try my best to live by those standards. My position as Chairman of the Marion County Coordinating Council (MCCC) is not about being at the top of an organization, but about leading by example and working with community members in service to our community. I enjoy working with, and for, all people – regardless of race, creed, color, denomination, health status, social background, or economic situation – because it is an honor and a pleasure to serve people, keep them healthy, and put a smile on their faces.
I have a long history of working in the Marion County area, and I serve these programs seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day, with pride and respect. The BUILD kickoff convening in Chicago was a major transition moment for us, and very informative for our team. I confess I am afraid of heights, but I knew that being in that sky-high room overlooking the big Windy City was worth it to bring back the learnings and connections to the residents of Marion County. I was overwhelmed with joy to meet so many people from different walks of life that were on the same path, and ready to share their experiences. I was proud to be among them.
Although we couldn’t predict the COVID-19 pandemic then, I believe that MCCC was chosen for BUILD at the right time, in order to establish the CHFE Program and be a greater working and servicing non-profit organization for Marion County. Our dynamic group of members were prepared to address the increase in food insecurity and food shortages, as well as to provide necessary items for safety and prevention. I am very proud of the accomplishments that the CHFE Program have made over this past year and I believe we will continue to make a powerful impact throughout Marion County. We are ready, willing, able, and inspired to improve our community’s health.
Reverend Marvin Hemingway is Chairman of the Marion County Coordinating Council and President of the Marion County Branch of the NAACP. He is an associate minister at Antioch Missionary Baptist Church, Timmonsville, SC, and has dedicated his entire time and life to being a Community Liaison Minister through his many non-profit Christian organizations to care for all people regardless of race, creed, color or denomination.