How I Helped Bring Healthy Food to My Community

Defined as a low-income census tract where a large number of residents have low access to a supermarket or somewhere providing more than convenience and processed foods, food deserts are littered among the Blue Ridge Mountains in Western North Carolina, specifically in the greater Asheville area.

The YMCA of Western North Carolina's Healthy Living Pantry is committed to providing temporary food assistance that focuses on healthy and sustainable living.  It provides fresh, produce with a local sourcing focus, lean meats and alternative proteins,  whole grains, and low fat dairy options to its clients in the Asheville community.

My name is Lisa Riggsbee, and I'm an intern from the Health and Wellness Promotion department at UNC Asheville, which works with the Healthy Living Pantry and Mobile Kitchen in an effort to expand the reach into our community. I connected the pantry with a couple of community gardens in Asheville as well as churches in the area that are committed to carrying out food drives. For me, creating community is crucial with the pantry.

Serving up to 33 families each week, the reach of the Healthy Living Pantry continues to expand. Based on the MyPlate ® model, the Healthy Living Pantry is teaching its clients correct portions of grain, meat and meat alternatives, dairy, fruits and vegetables. Along with that, the pantry is encouraging people to eat locally and to cook with their families by utilizing cooking demonstrations from the Share Our Strengths ® “Cooking Matters in Your Food Pantry” curriculum.

While having the pantry is a huge success and has more than quadrupled in participation rates since its start in November of 2013, the Healthy Living Pantry was just not enough for a group of directors who had a bigger vision in feeding Western North Carolina.  Transforming a 72-passenger bus into a fully functional, full service kitchen complete with a gas stove top and oven, refrigeration, sterilizing sink, and plenty of preparation space, the Healthy Living Mobile Kitchen was launched in April of 2014.

The Healthy Living Mobile Kitchen will be travelling into food deserts to provide emergency food assistance, nutrition lessons, cooking demonstrations and meals to families who do not have access to these services otherwise.

Cody Bushong, Health and Wellness Promotion service learning student from UNC Asheville, has created a map of the client’s from the Healthy Living Pantry in order to see where families are coming from and where people may not be coming from. With this information we will be able to reach neighborhoods that do not travel to the pantry by sending the Healthy Living Mobile Kitchen into those places.

Focusing on connecting people through food and community, the Healthy Living Pantry and Mobile Kitchen is dependent on volunteers and interns. These are people who are committed to slowing and even halting the food deserts in their community.

As we continue to serve in our community, we ask that you begin to serve on your own. 

Thanks for listening to my story.


Lisa Riggsbee is a student at University of North Carolina- Asheville (UNCA) where she is a Health and Wellness Promotion major with minors in Psychology and Mass Communication.   Lisa was recently named a Community Engaged Scholar by UNCA for her outstanding achievements in community wellness promotion.  Having a passion for writing and community wellness promotion, Lisa began working with the YMCA of Western North Carolina Healthy Living Pantry expansion project in January 2014 in an effort to expand the reach of the program and has since more than quadrupled pantry participation. When she is not in the classroom, you can find Lisa enjoying the sunshine on a hike or hanging out with a good cup of coffee. Lisa will graduate in Spring 2015 from UNCA at which time she hopes to pursue a career in community and public health. 

Tags: This Week in Young Leaders, Millennials, Generation Y, Generation X, young leaders, leadeship, Volunteer, social responsibility, healthy living, food deserts, mobile kitchen, pantry, YMCA of Western North Carolina, North Carolina, Asheville, cooking, Community, UNC Asheville, college, food, health, wellness, the y, YMCA

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