Midtown: Community

Workshop gives us chance to act in Southeast Raleigh

Icy weather last weekend interrupted plans for a two-day community workshop organized by Voices into Action: The Families, Food and Health Project to think about how we think about food, our access to healthy options and how to improve both.

The workshop will now be 8:30 a.m.-noon Feb. 22, and 8:30-3 p.m. Feb. 23, at Martin Street Baptist Church.

I’m writing about it now anyway because we need to be present. It’s our chance to talk about ideas for programs or projects that would make our community healthier, our chance to bring our voices into action.

We have to, considering:

• In Southeast Raleigh, including parts of Midtown, we’re among 410,000 people who live in one of more than 171 food deserts across 57 counties in North Carolina. The U.S. Department of Agriculture labels these neighborhoods as having limited or no access to affordable and nutritious foods.

• Nearly one in three children in the state is food insecure – living in families unable to afford enough food within the past year, making them more likely to miss school, be inattentive and drop out.

• People in food deserts face higher rates of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer.

• According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, only 11 of every 100 of the state’s food stores and restaurants offer menus with healthy foods – fruits and vegetables – influencing our choices.

I’m also writing about it now because last month, I urged us all to pay closer attention to what’s happening around us before crying foul about what happens to us. Complain “from the rooftop” when we can’t find healthy, fresh food close to home, I said. Help our elected officials prioritize to get the word out, I suggested. Demand better, do better, I challenged.

Here, I do part of my part to ensure you know about the Voices into Action workshop and why you should care.

When the community gathered at Martin Street last month, we vented about the closing of two Kroger stores in Southeast and East Raleigh. The closings left Southeast Raleigh without a place to buy fresh produce and was even worse for those who relied on the stores’ walking-distance convenience, pharmacy and banking services.

This week, Carlie C’s IGA will move into the former Kroger on New Bern Avenue.

How to help Southeast Raleigh?

But that’s not what Voices into Action is all about. Funded by a USDA grant, the project of N.C. State and N.C. A&T State universities and the N.C. Cooperative Extension Agency focuses on Harnett, Lee and Wake counties.

“Really the goal of the project is to improve access to healthy, affordable food, and places to be active,” said Kathryn Rosenbaum, Community Outreach Coordinator. “It really does depend on the community.”

This month’s workshop will start Voices into Action’s work in the area, “to get a sense of how our project should operate in Southeast Raleigh,” she said.

“But before we know what would make sense in terms of support, we need to know what’s going on,” Rosenbaum said, noting Voices into Action is about connecting people and resources, but not without first “understanding what is already happening in Southeast Raleigh that we can grow and build.”

Within a year, Voices in Action will award mini-grants to community organizations, nonprofits and faith-based institutions to support initiatives that promote access to, and our choice for, healthy food and physical activity.

Day 1 of the Voices into Action community workshop invites community leaders and representatives from local agencies and nonprofits to explore services provided and links between organizations that focus on access to healthy food and physical activity in Southeast Raleigh. Expect questions such as: What exists? What are the priorities? How’s communication?

Day 2 is dedicated to organizational leaders and community members to share information, and draft community action plans and strategies to address ways to improve access to healthy, affordable food and places to be active. From noon-3 p.m. Saturday, some workshop participants will convene to begin identifying priorities for mini-grant funds.

To get ready to work in Southeast Raleigh, Voices into Action has community mentors in place and held meetings – one of them at Mount Peace Baptist Church, where voices rang clear about the need for places to buy healthy food and move our bodies. Ideas included playgrounds, community gardens and faith communities’ support of everything from food pantries and mentoring to education.

I’m interested to see who’ll show up at Martin Street Baptist later this month, and I’m curious about how right we’re getting it already and how willing we are to get it better.

I’m even more interested in results.