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.