Clemson University College of Behavioral, Social and Health Sciences, in partnership with the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) Environmental Affairs, has created a statewide map showing food pantries in every county to aid families facing food insecurity.
Nearly 490,000 people face hunger and food insecurity in South Carolina, according to the nonprofit Feeding America. Food insecurity means a lack of access to enough food to live a healthy lifestyle, and project leaders hope that this resource will decrease those statistics.
The Food Access Map makes the process of finding reliable information on food resources easier for people in need across the state. The project is funded by a grant received by DHEC entitled EJ Strong: Strengthening Environmental Justice Communities for Disaster in South Carolina. According to Leslie Hossfeld, dean of the College of Behavioral, Social and Health Sciences (CBSHS), ensuring families have access to healthy food is a critical component of disaster response.
“There are individuals and families in the state who face food insecurity even at the ‘best’ of times,” Hossfeld said. “A crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic only makes clearer the need for good, reliable information on what type of help is available and where to find it. This map has been put in place to serve as a repository for that information.”
This statewide map is an expansion of an Upstate map created by Clemson CBSHS, Ten at the Top, and the United Way of Pickens County two years ago. Karen Sprayberry, Senior Advisor on Environmental Justice at DHEC, asked CBSHS Dean Hossfeld if together the two organizations could work to expand the map to reach all 46 counties and benefit all South Carolina residents.
“During the EJ Strong training modules, participants have been educated on food systems, food access and food insecurity,” said Keisha Long, DHEC Environmental Justice Coordinator. “Participants have worked with Clemson CBSHS to confirm food availability within their communities. We are delighted that the Food Access Map is a key component of the EJ Strong project.”
Brooke Brittain, associate director of food and nutrition security for CBSHS Clemson Rural Health, also envisions that healthcare providers, who screen for socioeconomic difficulties during patient appointments, could use the map to help their patients find food. She also sees the map as a tool for organizations with food pantries that want to expand their reach into areas lacking resources.
“We are excited to have this available to the whole state,” Brittain said. “Our goal is to increase people’s access to food. This map is interactive and easy to navigate and shows resources in every single county in the state.”
Also included on the map, which is housed on the CBSHS website, are DHEC locations and South Carolina Department of Social Services offices throughout the state.
“The EJ Strong Food Access Map is an innovative tool that empowers communities by providing information on resources available to combat food insecurity,” said Myra Reece, DHEC Director of Environmental Affairs. “I value the partnership between Clemson and DHEC and appreciate Clemson’s amazing commitment to serving communities across South Carolina.”
Clemson students have worked to verify and update information on over 900 food pantries and food resources in the state. Food pantry entries not only include contact information and hours, but more detailed information about the need to bring ID or fill out an application to receive help.
One such student, sociology senior Maya Gardner, helped organize and verify the data for the map. She also helped recruit and motivate volunteers who verified information through phone interviews and digital surveys, as well as managed data so that information could be easily updated and shared with other organizations. In her role, she contacted many community leaders and public health experts as well as representatives from local food pantries who had made tremendous service changes to continue providing grocery assistance and hot meals despite public health measures and economic restrictions.
“My entire experience with the Food Map project was extremely rewarding,” Gardner said. “In a time where we treasure individual success over community involvement and are less likely to know our neighbors than ever before, experiencing this collaboration with professionals committed to their community felt like a much-needed sign that we are still committed to looking out for one another.”
Established in 2016, the Clemson University College of Behavioral, Social and Health Sciences (CBSHS) is a 21st-century, land-grant college that combines work in seven schools and departments – Communication; Nursing; Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management; Political Science; Psychology; Public Health Sciences; and Sociology, Anthropology and Criminal Justice – to further its mission in “building people and communities” in South Carolina and beyond.
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