November 24, 2021 - Nearly 160,000 people in Coastal Georgia struggle with food insecurity and many families turn to food pantries for additional assistance, especially during the holidays. However, healthy options are not always available for those in need. All too often, they must rely on inexpensive, unhealthy foods because that’s all that’s available.

“If we want to be a healthier community we need to donate healthier food,” said Paula Kreissler, executive director of Healthy Savannah. “This is more than just providing meals to others so they don’t go hungry. The families who receive food pantry donations deserve the same healthy foods that we feed our own families.” 

Kreissler says everyone, regardless of income level, should have access to fruits and vegetables, proteins, and whole grains. Research has shown that healthy foods can reduce a person’s likelihood of developing diet-related chronic diseases. Nutritious options are particularly important for the physical and cognitive development of children and to help all family members cultivate healthy eating habits. 

That’s why Healthy Savannah and the YMCA of the Coastal Georgia, administrators of the five-year, $3.4 million grant called Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health (REACH), are encouraging those who can donate to others during this holiday season to provide healthy options, such as canned fruits in 100% fruit juice, dried fruits, and low sodium canned products. Donations of whole-grain bread and pasta and breakfast cereals, along with proteins such as canned tuna in water, are also encouraged.

“Among those who are particularly vulnerable to food insecurity are college and university students,” said Ruby Hallam, MPH, CHES, nutrition manager at YMCA of Coastal Georgia. “That’s why we are excited to be working with the Savannah State University food pantry to support their efforts to provide healthy choices to students using that resource.”

Savannah State’s Student Development office administers the program that assists students experiencing food insecurity and homelessness. As part of this effort, the school recently received a grant to provide 20 students with fresh vegetables, a whole turkey, and other nutritional food supplies for the Thanksgiving holiday. 

“This is one of the ways we try to address food insecurity on our campus and to ensure that students have access to healthy nutritious foods,” said Jacqueline Awe, director of Student Development. “We also encourage healthy donations so we can provide healthy selections to pantry shoppers year-round.”

The University also provides access to healthy foods through its College of Science and Technology, which grows fruits and vegetables on campus through an aquaponics system, and then donates them to students who shop at the school’s food pantry.

One of the largest food pantries in Chatham County is operated by the Kingdom Life Christian Fellowship church on Savannah’s southside. It has grown to serve hundreds of families throughout the community with a food giveaway every first Saturday of the month and through other outreach events. 

“Our church thrives on building relationships with the community and ensuring that all needs are met with love,” said Dierra Jones, Pantry Ministry team leader. “We encourage donations of healthy food options because they are important for strong bodies and overall health. Nutritious foods help children thrive and enable families to build a legacy on good health, exercise, and longer life expectancy.”

Those who wish to donate to Kingdom Life’s food pantry are encouraged to drop off fresh produce and non-perishable foods with lower sodium, lowered sugar/no added sugar. The church is located at 425 W. Montgomery Cross Rd. Donations are generally accepted on Tuesdays and Thursdays during office hours between 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. The congregation is also planning its annual “Blessings on the Southside” event from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m on Saturday, Dec. 18, with a giveaway of 1,000 grocery boxes and 1,000 free gifts for kids and families who attend while supplies last. For more information, call (912) 921-5346. 

By donating purposefully to programs such as those at Savannah State University and Kingdom Life Christian Fellowship, Kreissler is encouraged that Chatham County residents can help assure local food banks, food pantries and soup kitchens will be able to supply desperately needed nutritious foods to families and students in need right here in our area, through the holidays and beyond.

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