The Sisters of Charity Foundation of Canton has been a partner in Live Well Stark County since it began in 2011, helping support and fund this group of community leaders who work together to make Stark County healthier. Live Well Stark County promotes policies and programs that support wellness through healthy nutrition and physical activity behaviors.
Live Well Stark County began as a group of representatives of local institutions and organizations who came together in 2011 to help Stark County's charitable hospitals complete a federally-required Community Health Needs Assessment. Once the assessment was complete, however, the group continued to work together to develop and implement a plan to make the Canton community healthier.
Other members of the group's leadership team include representatives from the Stark County Park District, the Stark County Medical Society, Mercy Medical Center, Aultman Hospital, Stark Fresh, Ohio State University Extension, the Stark County Health Department, and the Stark County Educational Service Center.
Funding from the Sisters of Charity Foundation and the Stark County Park District supports the salary of the organization’s part-time director, Nick Morris. Under Morris' direction and with a grant from the foundation, the organization's community garden grant program has funded 11 projects over two growing seasons. Grantee organizations operate community garden programs in the county's "food deserts," where access to fresh, nourishing foods is limited. In the first year of the program, community gardeners grew approximately 2,500 pounds of produce that fed more than 400 people. In the second year, they grew 3,900 pounds of produce that fed more than 1,000 people.
The gardens have become more than just a way to influence healthy habits; they've also changed lives. At the J. Babe Stearn Community Center in Canton, neighborhood kids were getting into the gardens and pilfering tomatoes—not to eat, but to throw. Tim Haverstock, program director at the Stearn Center, guessed correctly that the kids were getting into trouble because they just didn't have anything more productive to do. He got them interested in gardening. Before long, they were growing their own tomatoes rather than destroying vegetables that others had worked hard to grow.
At the Sherrick Road Church of God, Pastor Mike Lemon and his garden supervisor, Chris, consider their garden a point of pride. They've grown approximately 800 pounds of produce so far—produce that goes straight into the 100 meals the church serves daily during the summer to neighborhood children.
Having a productive and motivated coalition already in place positioned the group to receive a Creating Healthy Communities grant from the Ohio Department of Health. That funding, $115,000 a year for five years, was awarded so the group could “create a culture of health.” The grant is focused on three priority communities: the northeast quadrant of Canton, the southeast quadrant of Canton and the city of Massillon. These urban centers were selected by group consensus as areas with limited access to healthy foods, higher concentrations of low-income and minority populations, and individuals and organizations eager to partner with Live Well Stark County. In each of these areas, grant funds will be used to promote better eating, more physical activity and less tobacco use.
Through the Stark Community Foundation's recent campaign to educate the public about widespread food insecurity in Stark County and to catalyze efforts to solve this problem, Live Well Stark County has identified many more potential partners. With the help of these and many more like-minded individuals and organizations, Live Well Stark County anticipates another productive year in 2015.
The Sisters of Charity Foundation of Canton is a ministry of the Sisters of Charity Health System.