Headshot photo of Dr. Kina White
Dr. Kina White, Director of the Office of Community Health Improvement (OCHI) at the Mississippi State Department of Health (MSDH)

The Mississippi State Department of Health (MSDH) was recently awarded Age-Friendly Public Health Systems recognition by Trust for America’s Health (TFAH). We spoke with Dr. Kina White, Director of the Office of Community Health Improvement (OCHI) at MSDH, to talk about this great achievement and learn more about efforts to make Mississippi a more age-friendly state. Read on to see what Dr. White had to share!

What is healthy aging?

If we use the World Health Organization’s definition, healthy aging is defined as the “process of developing and maintaining the functional ability that enables wellbeing in older age”. It enables people to be and do what they value throughout their everyday lives. 

Something that’s very important to consider when we think about healthy aging is that we’re all aging. I think that there’s this misperception that healthy aging is only applicable to older adults and it is not. The goal is for all of us to healthily age in our communities. 

How is MSDH working to make Mississippi more age-friendly?

Through work with Trust for America’s Health, the Mississippi State Department of Health is building age-friendly ecosystems in Mississippi. The state department has adopted Trust for America’s Health’s model for creating age-friendly public health systems, and is using that model to guide its work in this regard. 

The model is based on the “6 C’s Framework” outlined by TFAH and centers equity not only when creating health plans but also when collaborating with other health organizations across our state. Right now, we’re working to support a local university to become more dementia friendly and we’re also helping employers take on more age-friendly practices in the workplace. So with this ecosystem, Mississippi is on a path to becoming an age-friendly state where we can create a healthy community that respects all persons so that we can all healthily age. 

What resources indicate that a community supports healthy aging? 

Affordable and reliable transportation. If a community is able to provide transport services for older adults–whether through a community-based van service or non-emergent medical transportation–then that community is helping to support healthy aging. Proper infrastructure, like walkable sidewalks, is another example.

Another example would be adequate training for service staff–like grocery store workers or cashiers. If those staff are effectively trained to work with older adults, who may have a language barrier or communication issue, then those customers would not feel stigmatized or ashamed that their communication needs may be different from someone else’s. 

It’s really about creating an environment where individuals can live and thrive and not have to relocate because the support services are not there. And it does require an elevated level of planning, communicating, and coordinating with individuals. There is also a policy element. There has to be a need for policy change in these communities to ensure that transportation or infrastructure-related policies are in place to create those community van services and safe sidewalks.

And so this work happens on multiple levels–a policy level, or it could be a systems level–or it could be an environmental level–but that work is ultimately necessary to building age-friendly communities within our state.

In your opinion, what does it mean to create a culture of health?

For me, a culture of health is one that is equitable and where all persons, collective individuals, and organizations are respective of differences and similarities. Without equity, that culture, in my opinion, is not well established or sustained.

What projects are you excited about? 

We have a new initiative called “Health Aging Champions”. It’s a volunteer-based program where older adults can volunteer to support our effort to become more age friendly as a state. 

Volunteers can help us learn what local communities need and how to best offer age-friendly services. This project also gives our older adults a voice at the table for a change, which is really exciting.

Is there anything else you’d like to tell our audience?

We are proud to do this work and support all of our Mississippians as we age! I think this will be yet another great opportunity for collaboration in our state. 

For more information, reach out to Dr. Kina White at kina.white@msdh.ms.gov

Responses edited for brevity and clarity. Views expressed in interviews published on this site are solely those of the interviewees.

<strong>Addressing Food Insecurity in the Nation’s ‘Hungriest State’</strong>

Addressing Food Insecurity in the Nation’s ‘Hungriest State’

On April 4, our team, along with one of our Battling Obesity workgroups attended the Mississippi Food Network Conference to learn more about local efforts to eliminate one of our state’s most pressing issues: food insecurity. 

At the county level, Mississippi has the highest rate of food insecurity in the nation and has been considered as the most food insecure state in the country by Feeding America for nearly a decade.

1 in 4 Mississippians deal with food insecurity, and it is a disparity that has been shown to put people at higher risk for obesity and chronic disease. And, although it may seem like a one-problem-one-solution issue, it actually requires a more holistic approach. 

Food insecurity is caused by a number of factors, or social determinants of health, such as income, transportation access, and local food availability. It’s also caused by food deserts–which, unfortunately, are very common in Mississippi. 

Food deserts are communities that have limited access to healthy, affordable foods. When identifying whether or not a community is a food desert, distance plays a key role. Residents must live between 1 and 10 miles from their nearest supermarket in order to have adequate access to food. But, in areas like the Mississippi Delta, where nearly 20% of the state’s population resides, residents have access to just one food market per 190.5 square miles. There is also store inventory to consider; as one participant of our community listening sessions noted, “most stores do not have enough variety of healthy food.” 

When people aren’t able to access fresh, healthy food–either because of distance or lack of availability–they may turn to eating at fast food places or restaurants as an alternative. This is how food insecurity leads to poor nutrition and adverse health outcomes like obesity. 

Our plan is to reduce food insecurity by 10% in the next five years by increasing food access and eliminating food deserts across the state. We’re proud to work with organizations like the Mississippi Food Network to strengthen our efforts and raise awareness around the importance of ending food insecurity. 

Click here to learn more about the latest State Health Improvement Plan (SHIP) and how you can help improve our state’s health. Then, show us how you’re bettering community health by sending us your success story! Visit https://uprootms.org/contact to get started.

TJ Mayfield, Executive Director of the Mississippi Kidney Foundation

TJ Mayfield, Executive Director of the Mississippi Kidney Foundation, talks about the exciting work happening at the Foundation, and shares tips local organizations can follow to help improve health outcomes for our state. Read on to learn more! 

Why is preventing kidney disease so important in Mississippi?

Kidney disease is often called “the silent killer,” because it is not often talked about, even though it is the 9th leading cause of death in the United States. Diabetes, hypertension, and obesity are the three leading causes of kidney failure–and in Mississippi we have high rates of all three. 

Oftentimes, people don’t take their kidneys’ health seriously until something bad happens–they fail or you get kidney stones–but it can be too late by that point. That’s why we need to have more open conversations about kidney disease and kidney health, so we can have better health outcomes in Mississippi. 

What does the Mississippi Kidney Foundation do to positively impact the state?

At the Mississippi Kidney Foundation, we advocate, educate on kidney disease, and plan special projects with local organizations to improve health outcomes in the state. 

Recently, we celebrated World Kidney Day at the Capitol. It was a great event! We reached out to a couple of legislators, even though they’re wrapping up the legislative session, and talked about Medicaid expansion in the state.

In Mississippi, people continue to die from a lack of adequate care. There are people who work, but don’t have health coverage, and as a result postpone vital screening or treatments until they’re already in kidney failure. Expanding Medicaid can help those folks get treated, and can be one way that we can prevent kidney disease in Mississippi.

We also spoke to people about managing their kidney health and about disease prevention. There were so many people willing to share their stories and talk about someone they knew who had kidney failure, whether that person was a friend, family member, or parent. It was inspiring, and really drove home how important this work is. 

What projects are you excited about? 

I’m really excited about our current project with Jackson State University, the Health Equity Coalition, and the Mississippi State Department of Health. 

We’re traveling around the state and educating kids on diabetes, high blood pressure, and other risk factors for kidney disease–and we’re doing it in a different way. 

How is this project making a difference? How were you able to get schools on board?

I taught high school for six years, and that experience helped me when working with schools and scheduling events around state testing and so on. I also learned that the number one thing to do is meet the kids where they are. That frames our work with this project–meeting kids where they are and showing them how their food choices can impact their health in the future. 

A lot of the students I spoke to drink sugary beverages like Gatorade or CapriSun early in the morning, but don’t think anything of it because they haven’t been told how sugar can impact their health. 

It can be difficult for kids to make healthy food decisions, especially when there’s so much marketing dedicated to processed foods. Kids may see their favorite athlete eat or drink things that aren’t very healthy–not realizing that the celebrity is doing that to make money, not as part of their daily routine. So, breaking down how processed foods act on the body, and how to enjoy them in moderation, helps kids build healthy habits.

We’ve already been to two school districts: Coahoma County and East Tallahatchie School District. We have seven more school districts to cover–spanning from North Mississippi to the Central and South regions of the state–and will continue to educate students for another year and a half. From the information gathered during this project, I want to help build a health-based curriculum that all public schools in the state can follow. 

How can local organizations get more involved, not only with this project, but with other campaigns in their community?

Organizations can always get involved by using what they already know to help improve their communities.

Sanderson Farms, for example, has helped support our statewide project by donating about 220 pounds of chicken for us to use to cook fresh meals, like grilled chicken and vegetables, for students to enjoy. Sanderson Farms may not have the capacity to talk about healthy eating, but through their donation, they’re helping us show people how to eat healthy, and in turn, improve health outcomes across the state. 

We have so many organizations around Mississippi that are working toward the same goals, like lowering diabetes and obesity rates. By collaborating, they can make those efforts go further–and be more effective since they know their communities best. They can also join our project–we welcome any organization that wants to help!

In your opinion, what does it mean to create a culture of health?

For me, to create a culture of health is to have more conversations about health in our communities. We talk about everything–sports, music, family–but it’s almost taboo for a lot of people to talk about their health problems. I think normalizing conversations around health—physical, mental, and emotional health–is very important. 

How can communities get involved with the Mississippi Kidney Foundation?

Feel free to email me (tj@kidneyms.org)  or Vicki McIntosh (vicki@kidneyms.org). You can also call (601)-981-3611 or reach out to us on our website or on social media

Any way you can reach out, please do–we’d be happy to have you volunteer! We have a kidney walk coming up in October, and would love volunteers to help us set up, and for people to come out and walk in support of kidney disease prevention.

Is there anything else you’d like to tell our audience?

Take care of your kidneys! Be an advocate for yourself when you go to the doctor. If something feels wrong, have the doctor check. And drink plenty of water, especially now that the weather is getting warmer.

Responses edited for brevity and clarity. Views expressed in interviews published on this site are solely those of the interviewees.

Here’s How the Freedom Project Network is Changing Lives

Here’s How the Freedom Project Network is Changing Lives

From after-school programs to community organizing, The Freedom Project Network (FPN) is helping boost health and life outcomes for residents in Sunflower, Meridian, and Rosedale, Mississippi.  

Inspired by the 1964 Freedom Schools, Freedom Project Network was founded in 2016 with the focus on improving student achievement and leadership. This initial focus was in response to the low graduation and college-readiness rates present across the Mississippi Delta. 

Statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau suggests that within FPN’s service area, the number of people with a bachelor’s degree or higher can be 7% lower than the state average. FPN’s work is helping change that, and the benefits can last a lifetime. 

Students with a bachelor’s degree earn up to $900,000 more in their lifetime than students with only a high-school diploma. With this additional income, residents are able to lead healthier lives and afford property closer to food and healthcare services. But, education isn’t FPN’s only focus area.

In recent years, FPN has expanded its work to include community engagement, environmental conservation, and so much more. Last year they hosted a local event, called a Community Health Carnival, that brought together local health-related organizations from around the state in order to boost health literacy and help people find care near them. The participating organizations set up booths, shared pamphlets, and delivered valuable health services to carnival-goers like blood pressure screenings and COVID-19 vaccines. Carnival-goers were also able to enjoy healthy food options, attend exercise classes, and learn more about health services near them.

By increasing literacy, college readiness, and access to health resources, The Freedom Project is helping improve the quality of life in the Mississippi Delta on all fronts, and that’s something we can all get behind. Click here to learn more about Freedom Project Network! Be sure to follow them on Facebook to get updates on their events and community work. 

Have a success story of your own? Send it to us! Visit https://uprootms.org/contact to get started.

Growing Healthy Waves: Sharing Lessons for Life

Growing Healthy Waves: Sharing Lessons for Life

Increasing the number of food and nutrition education programs is always a good thing, especially in schools. Nutrition education has far-reaching and life-long benefits. Kids who participate in a nutrition education program increase their daily consumption of fruit and vegetables and are more likely to make healthier food choices as they get older. 

In Mississippi, where nearly 73% of the obese population are children between 10 and 17 years old, increasing food and nutrition education can help create a healthier state. In this article, we’ll take a look at Growing Healthy Waves, a Tupelo-based initiative, focused on boosting food and nutrition education in Tupelo public schools. Read on to learn more! 

Growing Healthy Waves, “Wave” being a nod to the local school district mascot “The Golden Wave”, aims to “get kids excited about healthy eating” in more ways than one. Through their partnership with the Mississippi Farm-to-School Program, GHW is able to connect Tupelo public schools to local farms and facilitate activities for students of all grade levels to learn more about where their food comes from. These activities are diverse, hands-on, and involve essential parts of the food system–growing and processing. 

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Students plant seeds, visit local farms, learn healthy recipes, and cook meals. GHW will also invite educators, such as dietitians or nutritionists, to come to schools and lead cooking demos or share information on healthy eating. GHW’s holistic approach to food education helps students engage and take to heart the lessons learned about maintaining a healthy diet. 

We’re proud to spotlight Growing Healthy Waves as an example of how impactful community-focused organizations can be in creating healthier outcomes for our state. Be sure to follow them on Facebook and Instagram for updates on their work! 

Have a success story of your own? Send it to us! Visit https://uprootms.org/contact to get started.

The Great Work Happening at the Good Samaritan Center

The Great Work Happening at the Good Samaritan Center

Our community partner, the Good Samaritan Center, also known locally as “Good Sam” has provided food assistance, clothing, and community support services to the Jackson-Metro area for over 40 years. 

Their mission is to create a “network of helping hands” in order to better serve residents in need. Doing so not only builds the quality of life in our state’s capital, but also the quality of health. Read on to learn more! 

It’s reported that 1 in 6 adults and 1 in 5 children face hunger in Mississippi. In Hinds County, as many as 13,400 children face food insecurity. Food insecurity is a serious issue, not only because of the health consequences of malnutrition, but also because of the multi-generational impact hunger has on a family’s ability to increase their economic stability. 

Hungry children are more likely to repeat a grade, experience developmental delays, or develop behavioral problems that get in the way of their education. This may lead to them dropping out of school which can significantly limit their life potential earnings, and ultimately impact their ability to provide for their families. 

With support from organizations like Extra Table, Central Mississippi Planning and Development, and companies like KLLM Transport, Sysco Jackson, Two Dog Farms, and Salad Days, Good Sam is able to connect families in need to food programs or food assistance that provides locally grown farm-fresh produce. Their latest program, “Hub for the Hungry,” was developed during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in order to address food access issues from school and restaurant closures. 

 “From the moment things began to shut down because of the pandemic, these businesses stepped up to help Good Samaritan and Extra Table salvage, store and distribute fresh food products. This was food that was earmarked for schools and restaurants, but those places were now closed. The Hub was able to save the food and make sure it was given out to charities and churches helping struggling families throughout the state,” said Good Sam’s Executive Director, Kathy Clem, in an interview.

Through Hub for the Hungry, food assistance programs, and their regularly operating food pantry, Good Sam has been able to help hundreds of Jackson families stretch their budget and put food on the table. 

Good Sam is also a great place to volunteer your time to increasing community health–whether it’s helping collect donated items or helping out at an event. They frequently host 5K events, like their annual Kick up the Dust trail run, and other outdoor community fundraisers that provide a great opportunity for residents to get some fresh air and stay active.

We’re proud to spotlight the Good Samaritan Center as a powerful example of how impactful community-focused organizations can be in creating healthier outcomes for our state. Click here to learn more about Good Sam. Be sure to follow them on Facebook and Twitter for updates on their work! 

Have a success story of your own? Send it to us! Visit https://uprootms.org/contact to get started.

Spotlighting the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians 

Spotlighting the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians 

Our community partner, the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians (MBCI), is doing great things to improve our state’s health. Their work seeks to improve each part of their community, from health and wellness to education and job opportunities. Read on to learn more!

MBCI’s service area is wide. It includes communities spread across the Choctaw Indian Reservation, a sprawling collective containing more than 35,000 acres of land distributed across ten different counties in Mississippi. With over 11,000 members in its tribe, MBCI represents the largest community of Choctaw Indians in the state

American Indians (AI)—and by extension Choctaw Indians—have historically been underrepresented in Census and health data. In 2012, the US Census Bureau published a press release stating it undercounted American Indians living on reservations by 4.9%. 

To gather more accurate data on American Indian and Alaska Native communities, the Census developed the American Community Survey (ACS). According to findings from the ACS, 1,931,362 people identified as American Indian in 2015, representing less than 2% of the total US population. Low representation in health studies, and health statistics, can negatively impact a community’s health.

 In this 2017 study, the CDC found that compared with other racial or ethnic groups, American Indians have a “lower life expectancy, lower quality of life, and are disproportionately affected by many chronic conditions.” 

Researchers also found that American Indians were two times more likely than white Americans to be diabetic while also being less likely to have access to a personal health care provider. The study suggested that the “small sample size” in previous behavioral studies made it difficult to determine the right course of action for improving community health for American Indians. 

Our work with community health partners and organizations across the state have shown that improving people’s connection to the health resources they need, i.e. improving social determinants of health, is vital to improving community health.  

MBCI does that by serving as a nexus for community members to access health resources–like the ones provided by Choctaw Health Center. Based in Choctaw, Mississippi, Choctaw Health Center is one of only a few hospitals designed to meet the needs of the Choctaw community, and provides a range of services from behavioral health to preventative care and inpatient services. 

In 2020, Choctaw Health Center helped administer 100 COVID-19 vaccine doses to Choctaw frontline health workers. It has continued to serve as a vital community health resource for administering additional treatment and vaccination to tribe members during the pandemic. 

MBCI also acts as a resource for job opportunities and community engagement. This past year, they’ve hosted holiday food drives, began constructing a new Boys and Girls Club in Pearl River, and donated money through their Economic Development branch to help community members start their own businesses. They’re very active on Facebook, updating their feed with the latest job or scholarship opportunity, as well as fun community events like golf scramble or their annual Christmas decorating contest. 

We’re proud to spotlight our partner MCBI as an example of how impactful community-focused organizations can be in creating healthier outcomes for our state. Click here to learn more about the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians. Be sure to follow them on Facebook for updates on their work! 

Have a success story of your own? Send it to us! Visit https://uprootms.org/contact to get started.

Connecting Schools to Fresh Food: Mississippi Farm to School Network

Connecting Schools to Fresh Food: Mississippi Farm to School Network

Researchers from Furman University found that children were not able to identify where their food came from. Out of the 176 children surveyed, their ages between four and seven years old, nearly 20% identified common fruits and vegetables, such as carrots and apples, as being animal-based. 

These results are likely due to the fact that most children do not see how food is grown or prepared, and therefore lack a fundamental sense of where their food comes from. It’s important for children to know where their food comes from, so they can make healthier food choices and become healthier adults. 

Mississippi Farm to School Network, a community-focused nonprofit, seeks to do just that by working with schools and other centers of learning to give kids hands-on experience with growing food. The nonprofit also works to increase the amount of locally grown food available to school children by connecting local farmers to schools. 

With support from the National Farm to School Network, Earth Island, and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Mississippi Farm to School Network leads community projects, boost community engagement, and supports local efforts to connect schools, churches, and other centers of learning to local farmers. 

In Mississippi, over 466,000 children participate in the National School Lunch Program, and many of them depend on school lunches for their daily meal. By increasing the amount of fresh food these students have access to, Mississippi Farm to School Network is helping boost health outcomes across the state.

“Community is always first and foremost the driver for me,” said Co-Director of MSFSN Umi Mills in an interview, “I am focused on doing what I think my community needs…I want to increase the connection families have with their food and healthy living. I want to focus on the wellness of our youth and really drive community wellness.”

Initiatives like Mississippi Farm to School Network show how impactful community engagement can be in creating healthier outcomes and improving our state’s health. Click here to learn more about Mississippi Farm to School Network. Be sure to follow them on Facebook and Instagram for updates on their work! 

We love learning about new local efforts that improve our state’s health. If you have a success story–send it to us! Visit https://uprootms.org/contact to get started.

Reading at the Park: Making a Difference One Book at a Time

Reading at the Park: Making a Difference One Book at a Time

Reading is an essential part of learning, especially for children. However, in Mississippi, families may find it difficult to access the resources they need to prepare their children for school. That’s where community initiatives like Reading at the Park come into play. 

Founded with a mission toward education, Reading at the Park (RAP) serves to improve literacy and educational outcomes for Mississippi children by increasing access to books for local communities. Read on to learn more! 

The Need

A 2019 study conducted by the Mississippi Department of Education (MDE), found that 63% of kindergarten students in the state are below the Kindergarten Readiness Benchmark (AKA: K-Readiness) for reading comprehension and literacy. Meeting this requirement not only suggests that children are ready for kindergarten, but also that they are well-equipped to meet fundamental educational benchmarks through Grade 3. 

The requirements for the K-Readiness Benchmark include a 70% “mastery of knowledge and skills in early literacy and numeracy” and is correlated with a score of 530 out of 900. In 2019, the average K-Readiness Assessment score in Mississippi was 502, representing a huge need for increased access to early learning programs and resources for reading comprehension and literacy across the state. 

The Disparity

Mississippi is considered a “book desert” or a region that has poor access to reading materials. Data aggregated from United Books, suggests that only 19% of homes in Mississippi have an adequate number of books for early learning. Having a well-stocked library at home has been proven to benefit children in several ways. Children who grow up with books are more likely to have higher literacy and numeracy skills, as well as become life-long learners. 

Reading at the Park 

Corrine Hegwood and Rev. Les Hegwood, during his time as an educator prior to becoming an Episcopal priest, became aware of the severity of Mississippi’s low reading comprehension while teaching. 

Before her family settled in Cleveland, Corrine Hegwood worked in many different school districts as a speech language pathologist. She noticed that in every class less than 25% of her students were reading at their grade level. 

“Many of the kids entering kindergarten in Mississippi are not ready for kindergarten,” said Corrine. “There is a significant word gap among children that don’t have access to books and that needs to be addressed.”

Rev. Les said his time as a highschool educator and Mississippi Teacher Corps Fellow really opened his eyes to educational deficits that exist in Mississippi. 

“I brought my experience with me into ministry as well. Educational equity, access to resources, and advocating for those things and creating programs that meet those needs has been part of our work for a long time,” said Les.

Inspired to make a change, Corrine and Rev. Les Hegwood, along with Margaret Katembe, from Delta State Library and Kierre Rimmer, CEO and founder of FLYZone, founded Reading at the Park (RAP) as a way of increasing literacy in their community. 

“Reading at the Park is what it sounds like. We go to different parks in Cleveland and in the Delta. We go to where the kids are, somewhere central to their community, where they can walk around, and we read,” said Rev. Les.

Reading events are completely free and include food and drinks for children to enjoy while they read or are read to. Kids can select up to three books before finding a place to read with their parents. RAP offers a wide variety of books with reading levels ranging from Pre-K to Grade 12. However, books aren’t arranged according to reading level, in order to make them more accessible to families. 

“We don’t want to assume. We’re serving a community and we want to honor that there is a diversity of abilities and that it’s accessible to all that come to engage with it,” said Rev.Les.

Since its founding, RAP has helped over 400 children and has shared nearly 1,600 books. With the help of their partners, Corrine and Rev. Les Hegwood have been able to expand their work outside of Cleveland. They have focused mainly on improving conditions in the Mississippi Delta, where access to educational materials, even in schools, is limited.

“We couldn’t be doing this without our partners. They’ve been a key component to our work and in our ability to connect to communities and expand our service area,” said Les. 

Their most recent event took place in Clarksdale, Mississippi, where they shared books with children at the Spring Initiative, a tutoring program based in the city. Looking ahead, Corrine and Rev. Les hope to teach more communities and parishes how to “RAP” and plan on hosting events next month in Rosedale, Mississippi. They continue to be inspired by the community’s support and positive response to RAP and are making plans to purchase a vehicle to replace their “Book It” golf cart in order to make longer trips around the state. 

“It’s been wonderful to see the community rally around Reading at the Park,” said Les, “There’s a lot of love for this community and hope. Reading at the Park, and other programs like it, allow people from very different backgrounds to come together around common, pure purposes. Things that we can all agree need our attention, our time, and our resources.”

Learn More

Initiatives like Reading at the Park show how impactful community engagement can be at improving outcomes for Mississippi communities. Click here to learn more about Reading at the Park and be sure to follow them on Facebook to get updates on their events. You can also show your support by sending a donation to help RAP expand their booklist. 
Have a success story of your own? Send it to us! Visit https://uprootms.org/contact to get started.

Jackson State University is meeting the needs of the community one food box at a time

Jackson State University is meeting the needs of the community one food box at a time

On Saturday, April 17, 2021, Members of the Jackson-Hinds community drive-by the Blackburn Middle School parking lot to receive a bag of non-perishable items donated by multiple organizations. A total of 1500 food bags were given away, all donated by TDC Premier Trucking LLC, an affiliate of Amazon and HOSEA.

Major institutions within Mississippi communities have a role to play in helping to create our culture of health, and Jackson State University is working to meet the needs of the community one food box at a time. 

The Office of Community Engagement is the liaison between Jackson State University and the surrounding community. Their work focuses on meeting community needs, ranging from assistance with information dissemination to a community garden. 

Meeting the Needs of the Community

Over the past five years, Jackson State University has been developing strategies to help with access to fresh produce and fresh food for metro Jackson residents.

They started the JSU Blackburn Learning Garden five years ago, and, along with Blackburn Middle School students, have since grown a variety of vegetables that are distributed to the community for free. 

With the help of their partners, JSU also hosts a Crop Drop a few times a year, where they hand out 50,000 lbs of produce grown from farmers across the state. They serve between 500 to 1,000 people. 

“We’ve seen many residents come to us looking for fresh produce, so we do these events to try to offset some of their grocery bills. Given the pandemic and the water crisis that’s been happening in our city, there has been a lot more need. With students learning virtually, and parents being at home and having to provide 3 meals a day plus snacks, it’s really been a strain on our community,” said Heather Denné, Director of Community Engagement of the Center for University-Based Development at Jackson State University.

Last year, they tripled the amount of food box giveaways and Crop Drop events. In April, they were able to give out a whole semi-truck full of produce and non-perishable items, helping over 1,500 people. The giveaway was supported by the TDC Premier Trucking, LLC, HOSEA, Amazon, Society of St. Andrew, Continental Tires and the People’s Advocacy Institute.

At April’s food distribution, JSU also handed out children’s books. JSU partnered with the Little Free Library organization and built 5 libraries throughout West Jackson. However, since the start of the pandemic, the libraries have been harder to access, so they decided to give books away at the Crop Drop. 

Creating a culture of health for Jackson families

“We’re always thinking about sustainability and making sure that these things make an impact long term. Specifically with our garden project, we are teaching our folks about how to grow their own produce,” said Denné. 

After the produce is grown, JSU works to engage the entire family with interactive projects that focus on healthy eating. They hold a student-led farmer’s market, as well as an annual greens cookoff. 

“We want to teach families about healthier ways they can sustain their family if they don’t have access to a grocery store that readily sells fresh produce and vegetables,” said Denné.


With events like the Crop Drop and their Learning Garden, Jackson State University hopes to teach the local community about healthy eating. Teaching children and families about growing your own produce is a lifelong skill that will lead to healthy eating! 

For any organization that hosts services, it’s important to ask the question: how can our organization teach the recipients the thinking behind these services that we offer, so they can learn to do it on their own for years to come?
Jackson State University is planning on hosting another distribution event in October. Stay tuned on their social media and website for more information.