October 5, 2021 - In Chatham County, 17.6% of all residents are food insecure and 21.8% of children are food insecure, with the accessibility and affordability of healthy food disproportionately impacting certain communities. Healthy Savannah believes change is urgently needed to forge a path towards health equity and has mapped out a plan to get there.

“Right now, we’re expanding Savannah’s Corner Store Initiative to provide more fresh produce that can be purchased with SNAP and EBT dollars,” said Paula Kreissler, Healthy Savannah’s executive director. “We’re also encouraging stores across the city to offer healthier options at the checkout to directly improve access to healthy foods.”

Funding for this campaign is provided by the Center for Science in the Public Interest. Additionally, in partnership with the YMCA of the Coastal Empire through the five-year, $3.4 million grant called Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health (REACH), Healthy Savannah is working with more than 200 community partners and organizations, including the Forsyth Farmers Market and Farm Truck 912, to elevate the health and wellness of the community and increase access to food within low wealth communities and communities of color.

Kreissler also hopes to leverage a recently announced 25% increase in SNAP benefits to grow the agency’s combined nutrition strategy efforts and expand Healthy Savannah’s Corner Store Initiative. Currently, there are five Savannah area stores participating in the program by offering fresh fruits and vegetables and healthy food options for purchase. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced in August that the average SNAP benefit (formerly Food Stamps) will increase for fiscal year 2022 beginning on October 1, 2021, by an average of $36.24 per person each month, or $1.19 per day. Although relatively modest, this represents the single largest permanent increase in SNAP benefits in the program’s history.

As part of the Healthy Savannah Healthier Checkout initiative, Healthy Savannah is also working on a direct messaging campaign to encourage shoppers to choose healthier choices during impulse buys at the checkout. The group is working with the City of Savannah to develop new guidelines for grocery store checkout lines to support this initiative. Billboards are going up around the city in October showing cartoon-like characters being encouraged to “make the healthier choice the easier choice” in the checkout aisle. The campaign also includes a series of social media messages which link to additional information at https://healthysavannah.org/healthy-checkout/

“Nearly two-thirds of children 2-5 years of age consume more than the recommended amount of sugar daily and 73% of food advertisements use familiar characters to target children,” said Kreissler.

According to a survey Healthy Savannah conducted in 2020, community members want fresh produce at neighborhood stores. Most respondents said they currently do their shopping and purchase healthy food at grocery stores (86%) and convenience stores (45%). About half (49%) of respondents ate fresh vegetables every day and fresh fruit every day (45%). Healthy food at neighborhood stores was important to the majority (69%).

Kreissler says Healthy Savannah’s plan to expand the Corner Store Initiative will focus on providing more fresh produce that can be purchased with SNAP and EBT dollars. This will also help address those needs the community voiced and, in conjunction with the potential implementation of a proposed Healthy Checkout Ordinance in Savannah, can directly improve access to healthy foods.

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