Community members, nonprofits discuss Douglas County food and health inequities

photo by: Jackson Barton

LMH Health Leadership Academy director Erica Hill, in blue jacket, speaks with community members about their concerns and solutions to ongoing food and health inequalities on June 27, 2019, at the Douglas County Fairgrounds.

At a community conversation on food security and health issues Thursday evening, area nonprofit leaders said health equity issues were a chief concern — and one of the organizers even used the location of the meeting itself to make his point.

“We have significant gaps,” Douglas County Community Foundation Executive Director Chip Blaser said during the meeting at the Douglas County Fairgrounds. “The fact that a child who lives across the street from here has a much shorter life expectancy (than one) who lives on the west side of town does is unacceptable, quite frankly … it impacts all of us.”

The conversation, hosted by DCCF, drew 70 community members and local nonprofit leaders to the fairgrounds on Thursday, and 14 local organizations working towards food and health equity were represented.

Presenters from the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department, Just Food and LiveWell Douglas County opened the event with remarks on food security and personal health.

Health department informatics director Sonia Jordan gave some background on the current health and income inequities in the county. She said 72.1% of black children from birth to age 5 live in poverty, while only 11.5% of non-Hispanic white children from birth to age 5 live in poverty.

photo by: Jackson Barton

Just Food executive director Elizabeth Keever gives a presentation on how her organization is changing to meet community needs on June 27, 2019, at the Douglas County Fairgrounds. Keever said Just Food is building a mobile food pantry to serve residents who cannot reach the local pantry.

“Living condition affects your behaviors,” Jordan said. “For instance, if you don’t have accessibility to healthy food, you’re probably not going to eat as healthy as somebody else who does. If you live in a violent neighborhood, you are less likely to go out for a walk or a run.”

Other topics the speakers discussed included the Lawrence Farmers Market’s issue with finding a permanent home under the Downtown Master Plan, as well as a mobile food pantry Just Food is building to reach residents who cannot get to food pantries due to transportation obstacles.

Later in the meeting, attendees broke up into small groups, where they had the chance to bring up their own issues or concerns about food and health equity. They brought up issues including transportation barriers, such as bus fares; a lack of communication with communities within Douglas County outside of Lawrence; and the need for more sharing of information among nonprofits fighting hunger in Douglas County.

Orthopedic instructor Cindy Manske said she felt physical fitness accessibility, especially for the elderly, was not emphasized enough during the initial presentations. She decided to bring it up with her group.

“We’ve got some people who have been together (and) gone through deaths of spouses; they’ve gone through watching our own friends deteriorate due to Alheizmer’s,” Manske said. “I love the ladies I’m in the pool with, and I want to help keep them together for as long as I can.”

Judith Gipp, a member of the Haskell Indian Nations University faculty, said she attended the meeting because she wanted to bring information back to her students, some of whom have suffered from food insecurity. Gipp said the most eye-opening piece of information she took away from the meeting was that the Kansas food stamp application is 28 pages long, compared to Missouri’s eight-page application. For some individuals “who aren’t able or they may not have the skill set,” an application like that could be a roadblock, she said.

“If they aren’t going to fill that out, what else may they not take advantage of in terms of resources available here in Douglas County?” Gipp asked.

Blaser said that besides raising awareness and working on the issues discussed, the community conversations help DCCF determine where financial help should be directed.

“(It’s) not something any single donor or even the board of the foundation can really know — all the ways that investments in these areas can make an impact,” Blaser said. “We need to hear that from the community, and that’s really part of what we get out of these conversations.”

photo by: Jackson Barton

Left, Just Food community engagement director Elizabeth Stevens and executive director Elizabth Keever talk with community members before the community conversation on food and health inequities begins at the Douglas County Fairgrounds on June 27, 2019.

photo by: Jackson Barton

Community members discuss ongoing food and health inequities at a community conversation on June 27, 2019, at the Douglas County Fairgrounds.

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