Combating Food Insecurity in Greenville

by Sean Thompson

As a Furman student, it is sometimes hard to get outside the Furman bubble and recognize what is going on in the community outside the gates.  I had always known that hunger and food insecurity were a problem in Greenville, but I didn’t realize exactly how much until I began my internship.  In South Carolina, 1 in every 7 people suffers from food insecurity.  Food insecurity is the lack of consistent access to enough food to live an active, healthy life, mainly due to insufficient financial resources.  Many low-income families that face food insecurity are often required to choose between food, housing, and medical care because they cannot afford everything they need. To respond to food insecurity, multiple issues need to be addressed in order to tackle it effectively.

Project Host does just that.  They began as a soup kitchen, where they serve lunch Sunday-Friday to people in the Greenville community.  They have since expanded to include multiple programs. One such program garden on-site, which gives all its fresh produce to our other programs and helps people have access to healthier food. Project Host also founded the CC Pearce Culinary School, which is a free program that teaches unemployed and underemployed people culinary skills and life skills necessary to work in food service and become self-sufficient.  Finally, Project Host organizes their Cooking for Kids program, which provides healthy meals to kids from low-income families at summer programs and after-school programs.

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My main task as an intern is to write a curriculum for, and then teach, healthy eating classes for kids ages 3-17.  My students are kids from the summer and after-school sites that we feed through the Cooking for Kids program.  I have loved seeing all the work that Project Host does in the community to help combat food insecurity, and one of the ways we do that is through health and nutrition education in my classes.  In the classes, I take my kids around our garden and show them how the food they get from Cooking for Kids starts as plants in the garden.  They help us pick some tomatoes, and then they get to plant seeds in recycled cans that they get to take home and grow themselves.  We talk about ways to create a healthy plate at meals and get all the nutrients we need to grow and be healthy, and then we use the tomatoes they picked to make a simple tomato and cucumber salad.

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My favorite part about these classes is watching my kids learn that vegetables actually taste good! When I tell them at the beginning of class that we are going to be eating tomatoes, I usually hear a chorus of, “Ew!” or “I don’t like tomatoes!” But then, once we are out in the garden, I encourage each student to try one as soon as they pick it off the vine.  It is incredible to see the same kids that were upset about having to try tomatoes run up to me after biting into one and ask if they can eat more.  It’s just a small moment, but I love knowing that my kids go home after class knowing that eating healthy not only helps us feel good and grow, but that healthy food can taste really good!  Combating food insecurity with food education makes sure that children have the tools to make healthy choices and have a healthy life, which will hopefully lead them on a path to avoid food insecurity in adulthood.  It is my goal to go into public health nutrition, and my classes have really shown me that I am on the right path – I am so happy that I am working with these kids, and hope that I can continue to help people through food and nutrition education in my future career.

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