As the pandemic has forced local businesses, schools, and families to adjust their operations to fit evolving restrictions, layoffs and other hardships, it also brought community outreach organizations together to answer the question: "How can we continue to help meet the needs of a community struggling to make ends meet during such uncertain times?" HEALTHIER TOGETHER has joined in again to lend a supporting hand.
We are working alongside multiple organizations to help offset food disparities happening within St. Clair County and the metro east. At a time of job uncertainty, layoffs, and school children learning from home, these partnerships are helping fill a gap that could otherwise cause families to go without when they need it most.
In the wake of hardships, Mobile Food Markets became a constant.
Members of these organizations have worked tirelessly to provide effective community outreach while still accommodating safe social distancing practices. These include organizations like AgeSmart Community Resources, Althoff High School, Ameren Illinois, Belleville Farmers Market, Belleville YMCA, East Side Aligned, First United Presbyterian Church, HEALTHIER TOGETHER, Holland Construction, House of Prayer for All Nations, Interfaith Food Pantry, Living the Word Church Fellowship, Mount Calvary Church of God in Christ, Project Compassion NFP, St. Clair County School Districts, St. Louis FoodBank and a host of other volunteers.
The solution was a mobile, drive-thru food market which enabled minimal contact with the public to maximize safe social distancing. So how does this all work? Members of the community drive up to a distribution site, pop their trunks, while volunteers place their prepackaged food in the trunk. Families are able to pick up for themselves and others as needed while maintaining a safe distance from volunteers.
Though the Mobile Food Market was initially meant to be temporary, this pandemic highlighted a serious need within our community and the people of St. Clair County answered. Perhaps the Mobile Food Market may be here to stay after all.
68 St. Clair County organizations partnered to distribute 3,441,946 lbs of food from Mar-Sep 2020.
In addition to the mobile food markets, HEALTHIER TOGETHER's Chronic Disease Prevention allies have secured funding through the St. Clair County Health Department and HEALTHIER TOGETHER for the Fresh Produce Voucher program. This program gives families $10 vouchers to be used at the local Belleville Farmer's Market's two locations. The vouchers are distributed through local organizations, schools, and the mobile food markets. This program began distribution in February and has dispersed 830 vouchers totaling $8,300 that can ensure fresh produce is accessible to families in need. This group is now looking to expand into the Washington Park footprint and will be distributing additional vouchers to a local food source in that area. The goal is to help families access fresh food when money may be tight.
Although we are just beginning to brush the surface in solving food disparities or remedying food deserts within St. Clair County and the metro east footprint, we know that every little bit helps and every path has to start somewhere. Our aim is to bring St. Clair County into the top 25 healthiest counties in Illinois. One day at a time, we can be healthier together.