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.
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!
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!
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!
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!
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.
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 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!
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.
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.”
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.
How Oxford Diaper Bank Is Supporting Mississippi Families in Need
According to the National Diaper Bank Network, Mississippi is one of fifteen states in the country that is most in need of additional diaper banks and infant care. And because there are no federal support programs that cover diaper expenses – which can reach $100 per month per child – community support is vital.
Fortunately, community initiatives like the Oxford Diaper Bank are helping new families meet their needs. The Oxford Diaper Bank was founded by the members of this year’s Leadership Lafayette as well as the North Mississippi Exchange Family Center and the Bare Needs Diaper Bank.
Since their founding in July 2022, the Oxford Diaper Bank has served nearly 10,000 diapers to families in need in Oxford-Lafayette County. They are currently coordinating to host another drive and are excited to participate in future projects to support Mississippi families.
Initiatives like Oxford Diaper Bank show how impactful community engagement can be in creating healthier outcomes and improving community health. Click here to learn more about the Oxford Diaper Bank and be sure to check out their Facebook page here.
This is likely due to the fact that community gardens offer a brief retreat from the hustle and bustle of daily life. They also provide easy access to fresh fruits and vegetables for people and families who otherwise would be unable to get those foods.
In addition to expanding food access, Third & Spruce shares information with local residents on healthy eating, and hosts events for food drives, volunteer opportunities, and more. Their social media feed is full of wholesome content, ranging from updates on the garden, to tips on planting seasonal produce, to words of gratitude and encouragement to those who help with planting and harvesting.
Initiatives like Third & Spruce show how impactful community engagement can be in creating healthier outcomes and improving community health. Click here to learn more about Third & Spruce Community Garden. Have a success story of your own? Send it to us! Visit https://uprootms.org/contact to get started.
How MSU Extension Service’s AIM for CHangE Is Creating a Healthier Mississippi
Mississippi has historically been among the states with the highest rates of obesity in the nation. According to the CDC, in 2015, about 1.5 million adults in Mississippi were overweight or obese. Obesity is often associated with increased risk for diabetes and cardiovascular problems and can put people at risk for developing other chronic diseases. But initiatives like Mississippi State University’s Extension Service’s AIM for CHangE intend to change that.
AIM for CHangE (short for Advancing, Inspiring, Motivating for Community Health through Extension) is a program focused on reducing the rate of obesity in some of the state’s most affected counties. AIM uses a holistic approach to solving this health issue by increasing communities’ access to healthy foods, physical activity, and health resources. AIM works directly with communities and community organizations in order to address health disparities in a way that is sustainable and that leads to healthier community behaviors. They operate with supportive funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“Believe it or not, we have people walking two, three, or five miles to to get food,” said Pandora Redmond, founder of Greenville-based Hearty Helpings Food Pantry.
Since March 2020, Hearty Helpings has served more than 12,500 healthy meals to 42,381 people in Washington County. AIM helped secure food donations for Hearty Helpings to distribute, and even helped the food pantry secure funding for a new deep freezer for food storage.
But Greenville isn’t the only city in AIM’s service area. Communities in Falcon and Lexington, Mississippi have also benefited from AIM’s community approach to creating cultures of health.
In Falcon, AIM, after meeting with community leaders, led a community clean up that prioritized renovating basketball courts and installing new park enhancements so that local youth could have a safe place to exercise.
“We successfully completed between six and ten clean up days and we had Mayor Hodo and Ms. Liz and some of the youth came out and helped,” said Masey Smith, AIM’s Project Manager in an interview. “The biggest thing was to be able to install that pocket park enhancement. That was something that really brought so much joy to the community and it really brightened that area.”
In Lexington, AIM helped create the Lexington Food Pantry to serve local residents in Lexington and Holmes County after meeting with community members and identifying the need for one. Lexington Food Pantry was so successful that community members are currently working with AIM to find ways to expand the food bank’s service area in order to address food insecurity in communities across the Delta region.
Click here to learn more about AIM’s work and community engagement. Be sure to also follow MSU Extension on social media to stay up to date on their work. Have a success story of your own? Send it to us! Visit https://uprootms.org/contact to get started.
Keeping Belzoni Beautiful: A Community Initiative for Now and Always
From community garden beautification to organizing litter clean-up crews, Keeping Belzoni Beautiful (KBB) is a community initiative developed to ensure local communities in Belzoni, Mississippi are safe, clean, and well-maintained.
As an affiliate of Keep Mississippi Beautiful, and subsequently Keep America Beautiful, KBB is allowed to submit a proposal for a community “Great American Clean Up,” which can range from organizing recycling efforts to leading litter clean-up crews to renovating public spaces.
On May 13, the members of Keep Belzoni Beautiful organized a local clean-up and renovation of their community garden, as part of their proposal and affiliation with Keep Mississippi Beautiful. The event involved dozens of families and community members and resulted in an updated community garden that not only included new produce, new compost bins, and butterfly gardens, but also a new walking path. Participants were treated to fresh fruit from the garden and celebrated with barbeque after the day’s work concluded.
“This community garden…will serve as a source of physical activity and will also create a beautiful atmosphere that people can just come and sit and relax their minds,” said Executive Director of Keep Belzoni Beautiful, Chandra Hines in an interview with The Delta News.
Keep Belzoni Beautiful is an inspiring initiative that other communities can start in order to keep their towns, parks, and other public areas safe and accessible.
For more information, read this Delta News article focused on the event or follow Keep Belzoni Beautiful on Facebook. You can also learn more about their community resources, objectives, and work with the Mississippi State Department of Health here. Have a success story of your own? Send it to us! Visit https://uprootms.org/contact to get started.
Words of encouragement and affirmation decorate the halls of Sunflower County’s community baby cafe, Let’s Talk Baby Cafe (formerly known as the Delta Baby Cafe). Located in Indianola, Let’s Talk has become an essential resource for nearly 80 mothers who frequent the cafe to comfortably practice nursing their babies and access helpful resources and information.
Jacqueline Lambert, Support Service Manager at Delta Health Alliance (DHA) and Lead Facilitator and Founder of the Let’s Talk Baby Cafe, speaks on what inspired her to start a baby cafe in Sunflower County, and how her initiative has helped mothers in the community overcome the stigmas surrounding breastfeeding and navigate the unknowns of early motherhood.
Creating a Safe Space
Lambert said her idea for creating Let’s Talk Baby Cafe came from her time working with The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). She saw how effective baby cafes were in providing mothers with a safe space to breastfeed and find support for early motherhood, and was inspired to recreate that in Sunflower County.
“While working with WIC, I heard about the baby cafe model,” Lambert said, “and I wanted to be able to reach out to moms and create a safe space for them to talk about their pregnancies, childbirth, or anything going on in their lives.”
Not only does Let’s Talk Baby Cafe offer new mothers a chance to connect, it also provides access to lactation resources, such as latching techniques and breast pumps, through DHA’s breastfeeding support program. Working moms are given advice on how to schedule feeding, pumping, and newborn care. Let’s Talk will even work with the mother’s insurance to see if affordable options are available.
New fathers can also receive support at Let’s Talk and are often interested in learning more about breastfeeding and postpartum in order to find new ways to support their partners.
The World Health Organization (WHO) advises mothers to practice exclusive breastfeeding (EBF) for 6 months, and considers this to be the most effective way of giving babies the nutrients they need to develop.
The health benefits of breastfeeding have been well documented and extend to both mom and baby. For mothers, breastfeeding reduces the risk of Type 2 diabetes and hypertension; for babies, breastfeeding decreases the likelihood of obesity, asthma, and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
But in Mississippi, the barriers to breastfeeding are numerous, especially for Black mothers. In addition to the high-cost of supplies, such as breast pumps, and the lack of education around nursing, stigmas surrounding breastfeeding prevent many mothers from initiating. Lambert said breaking these stigmas was another motivating factor for starting Let’s Talk.
“That was another goal: to create a place for mothers to go and to see other women that look like them who are nursing,” said Lambert. “A lot of times if you don’t see nursing you don’t think it’s happening. Well, our moms were nursing, it’s just they were ashamed to tell people they were nursing, because they themselves didn’t see it.”
In addition to normalizing breastfeeding by creating a supportive environment in the cafe, Lambert says that changing how women and, to a larger extent, communities view nursing will help programs focus on what other ways mothers may need support.
“Once we start changing how we view [breastfeeding] it changes what we can do to support it,” said Lambert.
But normalizing the practice of breastfeeding is just one stigma Lambert is working to break. Another stigma surrounds the very discussion of breastfeeding. Some new moms are too embarrassed, uncomfortable, or even ashamed to ask questions or start conversations about nursing, and this can prevent them from getting the information they need to start the latching process.
Lambert chose “Let’s Talk” as the new name for the baby cafe, because it introduces people to the conversation and community-focused aspects of the cafe right from the start.
“I decided to go with the name ‘Let’s Talk’ because that’s what I wanted it to be–conversation,” said Lambert. “I wanted people to feel welcomed and not threatened or think that they couldn’t participate if they weren’t breastfeeding. No, let’s talk. Let’s talk about breastfeeding, let’s talk about newborn care, let’s just talk. And when people see these discussions as a conversation and not a presentation, they’re able to open up more.”
Seeing a Change
Whether in-person or online, Let’s Talk provides opportunities for mothers to access the tools they need to support their nursing.
During the pandemic, Let’s Talk hosted virtual programs for mothers to ask questions and learn more about nursing. These programs were especially helpful to mothers who had transportation issues or underlying health concerns. Lambert says the cafe’s work during that time, as well as its continued work in the community is truly making a difference.
“I have seen a change. I’ve noticed that we’ve become a resource in the community. People don’t mind sharing or letting their families know that there is a baby cafe available to help them with their breastfeeding concerns,” Lambert said.