National Culinary Month
By Justine Bixler, UWSWA Vice President of Resource Development
“We quickly learned that food is a powerful tool to heal communities in times of crisis and beyond.” –Chef Jose Andres
July serves as National Culinary Arts Month across the nation. The purpose is to promote awareness of professional cooks and chefs who create innovative cuisine. Mostly, chefs are highlighted for their ability to utilize natural spices and foods obtained locally and make fresh food available to individuals. For many individuals in our services area, the most innovative part of being able to have a meal is how they obtain it. We often think about people not being able to access food in times of disaster, but we more easily forget the reality that people in our community experience food insecurity on a daily basis. Along the Central Gulf Coast of Alabama, Mississippi, and Florida 1 in 6 people face hunger, including 1 in 4 children. Income loss as a result of COVID-19, led to a 700% spike in people needing assistance and partner organizations such as Feeding the Gulf Coast were there to respond.
Year-round Feeding the Gulf Coast works through hundreds of partner organizations like the United Way of Southwest Alabama to provide nutritious food and meet the challenge of feeding people who are hungry as a result of systemic poverty, personal crisis or disaster. Following Hurricane Sally, we worked with them to facilitate a food donation from World Central Kitchen (WCK). WCK is nationally recognized non-profit founded by acclaimed Chef Jose Andres for their work serving meals in the aftermath of disasters. In September 2020, they set up shop along the Gulf Coast proving tens of thousands of meals to first responders and citizens reeling from Hurricane Sally. Followingtheir rapid response, they had several pallets of food remaining. We worked with their onsite leadership to facilitate a connection with Feeding the Gulf Coast so the food could continue be of assistance to our local community once they moved on to respond to their next disaster across the globe. Although last the last year feels like it is behind us, there is still much work to be done.
United Way of Southwest Alabama works to unite and mobilize resources in support of the building blocks for a better life. One of these building blocks is Health. All healthy community should consist of people who have readily available access to food. Studies show that those living with food insecurity are not able to perform as well in school or at work, are more financially unstable, and do not have a high quality of life in comparison to their food secure neighbors. In Alabama, the population of residents living in food deserts is similar to the population of residents in the states surrounding us. In fact, the southern region of the United States is where most food deserts are located. A food desert is defined by the USDA as a low-income census tract where at least 500 people or 33% of the tract population residing more than one mile from a supermarket or grocery store in urban areas, and more than ten miles in rural areas (ers.usda.gov). Often times, food that can be easily accessed from a nearby convenience store or gas station is more expensive and less healthy than food from a grocery store. If we are able to reduce the number of food deserts across Southwest Alabama, our citizens will be more food secure, healthier and better off financially.
The (3) main barriers to that prevent access to healthy food include: (1) lack of grocery stores, (2) transportation issues, and (3) limited income. One grocery store that has consistently stepped up to provide access to food in all corners of the communities they reside is Greer’s: Greer’s Markets, Greer’s Food Tigers and Greer’s CashSavers. Greer’s is a family owned and operated business since 1916 and they have 28 supermarkets and employee 750+ people across Alabama, Mississippi and Florida. Their vision is to bring added joy, well-being, and value to people’s lives and they do just that by tackling each of the barriers that prevent access to healthy food with a focus on customer service. (1) lack of grocery stores: they strategically place their stores in areas where access to food is scarce and work consistently to add more stores to their network. The newest store will be in downtown Mobile at 260 St. Louis Street and is walking distance from Bishop State Community College, Mobile County Health Department, the central hub of our public transit system and residential areas where many of our food service industry reside. (2) transportation issues: Greer’s offers free curbside pick-up at over half of their stores and has contracted Instacart and Shipt to provide delivery services. This enables individuals without transportation, that have minimal access to food, and seniors who are unable to ambulate around a store the ability to access the food they need to prosper. (3) limited income: Greer’s has a cost of the grocery item + 10% approach to providing customers affordable food. Greer’s accepts payments online or in store with any form of payment including cash, check, debit/credit card, gift card, and EBT. This allows anyone who many underbanked or enrolled in a food assistance program the ability to purchase healthy, affordable food at a location easily accessible to them.
As we all know it truly takes a village to tackle the challenges our communities face. At United Way of Southwest Alabama, we feel fortunate to work alongside our 46 partner agencies like Feeding the Gulf Coast and hundreds of corporate partners like Greer’s to improve the quality of life in our community. We work together to strategize ways to tackle challenges such as food insecurity, convene resources to consistently meet needs, and implement ways to ensure sustainable change for the future. We invite you to join us by choosing to Live United today!
To learn more or find local resources visit:
How UWSWA invests – https://uwswa.org/how-we-invest/
Feeding the Gulf Coast – https://www.feedingthegulfcoast.org/
Food Deserts in Alabama – https://www.aum.edu/continuingeducation/wp-content/uploads/sites/9/2020/11/Food-Deserts-in-Alabama-1.pdf
World Central Kitchen – https://wck.org/mission
Greer’s – https://www.greers.com/
By Justine Bixler UWSWA Vice President of Resource Development