LUMBERTON — Southern Carolina Housing is one of five organizations selected by the National Rural Child Hunger Research and Innovation Lab to receive $100,000 in funding and additional support.

The funding is to be used to develop innovative food access programs for Robeson County Housing Authority communities where traditional groceries and fresh foods are hard to access. Led by community-based organizations in five states, the projects were selected and funded by Save the Children’s new Rural Child Hunger Research and Innovation Lab, and will begin implementation in the coming months. .

“We are grateful for this opportunity to not only help public housing residents, but we will be able to help address food insecurity throughout the county – improving the quality of life for our residents and the place they call home,” Colton said. Allen Oxendine, Director of Resident Services representing South Carolina Housing.

A non-profit organization of Lumington’s Housing Authority, Southern Carolina Housing has received funding and ongoing support to develop a mobile food pantry that will distribute fresh, affordable groceries to communities in the county’s housing authority. , which will be launched through a pay-what-you-can mobile service.

Southern Carolina Housing was established by the Lumberton Housing Authority to provide its residents with assistance beyond housing.

“We decided as a housing authority that we had to give back, whether it was education, whether it was food, whether it was just about anything to get them out of where they are at by themselves,” Oxendine said.

“I hate to hear that we have kids who are starving for food so I’m putting my heart and soul into it so we can get started and make an impact not just in our community as a housing authority, but in the county,” he added.

It was during a conversation with Cathy Hunt, a grant facilitator for UNC Health Southeastern, that Oxendine decided to pursue funding that would address food insecurity among housing authority residents.

“We talked and said we had to get a grant and do something completely different from what everyone else is doing,” Oxendine said.

Oxendine said some Lumberton Housing Authority residents have traveled up to two miles in rain, heat or cold to get groceries.

“We want to be able to take this [bus] and be able to get to their doorstep,” Oxendine said.

The idea for the Mobile Food Pantry is to partner with Walmart, Food Lion and Robeson County Farmers to bring fresh produce, meat and dairy to the doorsteps of Lumberton Housing Authority residents. The pantry will be equipped with freezers and refrigerators to house these foodstuffs.

“We don’t want it to be like a gas station where they can buy crisps, where they can drink something. We want it to be healthy food… We all know that people who live in poverty, the food they can really afford is not fruits and vegetables. It’s corn syrup and corn starch,” Oxendine said.

Acting on a pay-as-you-go basis, the mobile pantry will be flexible for residents struggling to make ends meet, Oxendine said. An example of this is when Oxendine came into contact with a mother living with three children. She had food stamps, but was expected to stretch to about $50 over the next month.

“$50 worth of food won’t be enough for them until next month,” Oxendine said.

This is why the pay-as-you-go method is essential, Oxendine said.

“We’re going to be able to accept debit, credit and food coupons and if we have one of those situations where it’s pay-as-you-can, we’ll work with them as best we can and make sure that ‘they have fresh food,’ Oxendine said.

Nearly 90% of counties with the highest food insecurity rates are rural, and one in five children faces hunger, according to Save the Children. The Innovation Lab was launched last fall, to “cultivate breakthrough ideas into large-scale solutions that end child hunger in rural America, ensuring children have regular access to nutritious food”.

At launch in September, Save the Children launched the Lab’s first annual open call for innovative ideas from community-based organizations across the country. The five shortlisted community organizations — or 2023 lab grant recipients — were chosen after more than 100 organizations expressed interest in participating.

“Geographical isolation, lack of transportation and limited access to fresh food stores make it very difficult for many rural families to provide their children with the nutritious meals they need to grow and develop. “said Betsy Zorio, vice president of US programs for Save the Children. “Rural community organizations and leaders across the country are mobilizing every day to address the challenge of food insecurity in their communities. With the Rural Child Hunger Research and Innovation Lab, Save the Children wants to inspire and embolden these organizations and leaders, to help make food more accessible, affordable and dignified for rural families nationwide. We’re excited to bring the inventive ideas of the 2023 Lab winners to life, to help ensure children in rural America get the nourishing nourishment they need to thrive as learners and in life.

Innovation Lab grantees will meet this week for a three-day incubation workshop in Waco, Texas to refine their ideas before beginning to implement programming in the coming months. They will also receive ongoing support from a rural child hunger specialist team and a community of peers facing similar challenges.

“They’re going to guide us year after year…We don’t want it to be a one-year thing,” Oxendine said.

The Innovation Lab will launch its next annual open call for innovative ideas later this year. To learn more, visit www.RuralHungerInnovation.org.

Tomeka Sinclair can be reached at [email protected] or 910-416-5865.

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