While food insecurity in St. Mary’s County has increased over the past two years, officials now have a clear look at where exactly targeted solutions need to begin.
This Tuesday, St. Mary’s County and The Healthy St. Mary’s Partnership (HSMP), released a 21-page report on food security in their jurisdiction. The report uses local data as well as community and stakeholder input to get a geographically informed picture of the problem. The report also includes insight into long-term health solutions and presents strategies to address food security locally.
The HSMP is the county’s local health improvement coalition of public and private community partners, as well as individual residents, working together to improve health. County Health Officer, Dr. Meenakshi G. Brewster is sitting Co-Chair of the steering committee.
In a press release from the St. Mary’s County Department of Health:
“Many of our community partners, including food pantries, farmers, and local businesses have worked tirelessly to improve reliable access to safe and nutritious food for our residents,” said Dr. Meena Brewster, St. Mary’s County Health Officer and HSMP Co-Chair. “The information and suggested strategies in this report will help our community support this effort so that all St. Mary’s children and adults will have food security.”
Food security is defined by the United States Department of Agriculture as access by all people at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life. At a minimum, it includes readily available nutritionally adequate and safe foods, and the ability to acquire those foods in socially acceptable ways, without resorting to emergency food supplies, scavenging, stealing, or other coping strategies.
Most of the strategies presented in the report focused on driving more resources, partnerships, and awareness around the focal touch points for food insecure communities such as the 25 existing food pantries, schools, veterans organizations, and community health outlets. Across many of the strategies was a call for greater flexibility in hours of accessibility of existing programs and ease of access i.e. extending weekend and evening hours at pantries, establishing 24 hour emergency food box sites, increasing the overall volume of food distribution events, and sending packaged meals home with students. Another strategy that was cited in multiple variations was increasing the awareness, access and education around community and home fruit and vegetable gardens.