Midtown: Community

Project offers grant money to spur healthy choices in food, exercise

Voices into Action: A Families, Food and Health Project is ready to award mini-grants to groups who want to improve access to healthy, affordable food and places to be active in southeast Raleigh.

The funding is available to any of us who imagine a project between $100-$2,000 that makes it easier to buy healthy food and find safe places to exercise and play in southeast Raleigh. That could be anything from developing a community garden or canning co-op to creating produce sections in corner convenience stores or helping farmers who accept EBT/WIC create mobile distribution sites for fresh fruits and vegetables in rural areas.

The grants, which may be used in conjunction with other funding, are available to organizations familiar with grant-writing and those that have never before written a grant, said Kathryn Rosenbaum, the project’s community outreach coordinator. That includes schools, day cares, faith communities, convenience stores, farm stands, farmers markets, neighborhood organizations, civic groups, non-profits, and others. Individuals interested in applying must be partnered with an organization, Rosenbaum said.

Mini-grant proposals are due July 15.

On June 13, Voices into Action will host an informational session from 5:30-7:30 p.m. to answer questions and share more information about the grant process. The session will be at Neighbor2Neighbor, 1200 S. Blount Street.

Soon after Kroger closed stores on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and New Bern Avenue, both in southeast Raleigh, Voices into Action invited community and organization leaders to the table in search of ways to beef up access to healthy, affordable food, and increase places to be active in southeast Raleigh.

Voices into Action also works in western Harnett and Lee counties. Each, like southeast Raleigh, is defined as a food desert, distinguished by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as an area lacking access to healthy food that’s affordable and places to be active. Funded by a USDA grant, Voices into Action is a project of N.C. State, N.C. A&T and the N.C. Cooperative Extension Agency.

The third southeast Raleigh workshop is June 3 at Wesleyan First Church of Deliverance on Boyer Street.

“We’re still in the action-planning phase, talking about priorities and how to address them,” Rosenbaum said. The goal, she said, is to support what’s happening “without reinventing the wheel,” and to support new initiatives through the exchange of ideas, collaboration and funding.

As a result of information gathered, needs expressed and priorities set during the first community workshops, Voices into Action recently established a Listserv where information can be posted about free or affordable events, organizations and resources related to healthy food access and places to be active.

During the first of those community workshops, state Rep. Yvonne Lewis Holley (D-Wake) sat among community leaders who were searching for ways to make healthy eating and active living an easy choice.

Last month, Holley was joined as a primary sponsor of House Bill 957 Food Desert Zones by Rep. Edgar Starnes (R-Caldwell), Rep. Rodney W. Moore (D-Mecklenburg) and Rep. Mitchell S. Setzer (R-Catawba).

The bill proposes tax incentives to encourage businesses to move into food desert zones, including grocers and those who open corner marts. The bill’s passage also could bring job opportunities and boost chances for farmers to sell their locally grown produce close to home.

“There’s certainly more interest,” Rosenbaum said. “We have noticed a lot more people talking about it, people who want to address this issue.”

One group, for example, is working toward a food co-op in southeast Raleigh, Rosenbaum noted. Also, the YMCA is working to implement a Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health (REACH) project aimed at reducing health disparities by addressing specific needs, including nutrition and physical activity, in African American and Latino communities. The project is funded by the Centers for Disease Control.

Bonita Brown, whose husband is pastor of Wesleyan First Church of Deliverance, has been part of the Voices into Action community group since the first workshop.

Brown is most excited about the vision of farmers markets with locally grown produce in, say, the parking lot of the old Kroger on MLK. She also dreams of convenience stores with “access to fresh, organic food and healthy snacks, not just junk food and lottery tickets.

“It’s going to be amazing.”