One out of every seven people struggles with hunger in South Carolina, and the state sits with a 15.5% poverty rate, making it consistently among the top 15 states with the highest poverty rates in the country. Almost 1 million dollars worth of food has been distributed to individuals through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in South Carolina alone. As an individual who has seen the effects of poverty and government assistance up close, I can firmly say that terms such as “SNAP," “E.B.T" and “poverty” do not typically have the luxury to co-exist with phrases like “health-conscious," “fresh produce" and “home-grown."
Out of concern for this persistent situation in our Palmetto State, FoodShareSC, an organization founded on principles of community engagement and “Good Healthy Food for All,” was established in 2015. Beverly Wilson, who currently serves as executive director, and Carrie Draper, who works with the College of Social Work, dreamed up and created FoodShareSC together. In Wilson’s words, “FoodShare South Carolina is an alternative fresh food network housed at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine that began working in Columbia in 2015 and emerged in response to the challenges that low-income families face in accessing fresh, affordable food.”
How exactly does FoodShare work? When I was first approached about writing a piece for this organization my curiosity was piqued. I had never heard of such an organization, yet, I was highly sensitive to the effects of food deserts and insufficient access to fresh produce within this region. FoodShare’s most integral service is their Fresh Food Box system. People can purchase an inexpensive box of fresh produce (SNAP and EBT are accepted) every two weeks from local predesignated “hubs," which are delivery and pick up sites in critical geographical locations within the communities. This is the most visible way that FoodShare is able to fulfill their mission, which Wilson described as, “to connect families with food access programs and services that empower them to live healthful, productive lives.” FoodShareSC has about six different program offerings, from Fresh Food On-the-Go, which allows for bus riders to buy a Fresh Food Box at transit stops, to NeighborShare, which gives volunteers direct interaction as delivery services of Fresh Food Boxes to customers.
FoodShare is heavily reliant on volunteer community participation. One of these faithful volunteers, Dee Devlin, shared her experience with us. As a nurse practitioner, Devlin had personal experiences with patients not being able to afford the healthy food recommendations she gave them, so she began working with FoodShare in the summer of 2019. Devlin continually spoke of how much she thoroughly enjoyed the work she did with FoodShare, so much so that it did not seem to be work at all. When asked to summarize her experience volunteering with FoodShareSC in one word she took a short but thoughtful breath and quickly exhaled the word “rewarding," with no further explanation, as if there were no extra words needed to explain how volunteering with FoodShare could not elicit any other response.
The volunteer nature of FoodShareSC also makes this organization people-oriented. Listening to Ms. Dee Devlin express her experiences with FoodShare, I could feel the interpersonal and relational heart of their mission. One of our staff members, Coleman Rojahn, was able to go on a delivery route with Ms. Devlin and he asked her if helping others was one of the more rewarding parts of volunteering. Devlin replied, “Oh definitely. I’ve really kind of gotten attached to them [FoodShare customers she delivers to]. I worry about them, and I’ve gotten to know them very well.” She went on to talk about how she and one lady she delivers to have created a stronger bond over their love for crocheting. “They’ve become a part of me a little bit...I think I got a heart for these people,” she concluded. One note Coleman left for me from his ride with Ms. Devlin read, “Although one person who normally gets a box didn’t order one, Dee took the time to stop by her room in the same building as one of our stops to check in and make sure everything was going well for her.” This small act of kindness showed concern and this is what I have found to be the embodiment of FoodShare at its core.
Since its inception, FoodShareSC has distributed over 35,000 food boxes containing over 700,000 pounds of fresh produce. This past year alone equated for 10,000 of those food box deliveries. FoodShare is continuing to impact the Midlands while reaching other counties through its latest site openings in Greenville, Spartanburg, Orangeburg, Bamberg, Lee and Kershaw counties. As FoodShare’s reach expands, their community-oriented, “pay-it-forward" spirit remains focal. It has been a pleasure to get an inside peek at FoodShare South Carolina’s mission and purpose. Although this is not some strategic, call-to-action advertising, it would be remiss of me to not mention that you and I have an opportunity to get involved with organizations such as FoodShare that are dedicated to making South Carolina a more equitable place for all people. Even if FoodShare isn’t where your civic calling lies, we can all find inspiration in their efforts to create a solution to a serious problem, as well as their willingness to serve the community in which we all share common investments.