Creating Healthy Communities Coalition Projects Meet Local Needs in 2020

This year was a big one for the Creating Healthy Communities Program in Washington County, as the Coalition balanced a number of projects related to meeting needs like providing healthy food, encouraging safe and accessible transit, and bringing new playground equipment to a township that needed it. The CHC is committed to preventing and reducing chronic disease statewide. Through cross-sector collaboration, they are activating communities to improve access to and affordability of healthy food and increase opportunities for physical activity where Ohioans live, work, and play. By implementing sustainable evidence-based strategies, CHC is creating a culture of health.

The Coalition is made up of a diverse group of more than 40 partners and affiliates that work together to make the coalition’s projects happen. “It’s a big group of us working together to make this happen,” said Sherry Ellem, Creating Healthy Communities Program Manager. “It’s not just the health department.” Together, organizations like OSU extension, Washington County, GoPacks, the Washington County Behavioral Health Board, and AmeriCorps Seniors (formerly the Retired Senior Volunteer Program or RSVP) are major contributors to helping work toward Creating Healthy Communities Coalition’s ongoing initiatives and goals.

Washington County and Beverly Active Transportation

2020 was the first of a two-year project with the Buckeye Hills Regional Council to get more places to walk and bike safely and comfortably in Washington County. The Coalition conducted a survey this summer to gauge interest in where residents would like to have shared-use paths and trails, bike lanes, paved shoulders, and better crosswalks and sidewalks. To promote the program this year, Jim Ullman, the mayor of Beverly, hosted a How We Roll Ride. “We made a bicycle comfort map showing what kinds of roads folks might be comfortable riding on, and the mayor even shared his route,” said Ellem. Check out their “Enjoy the Walk and Ride” guide for more information. Additional work on this project will continue in 2021.

Bike Marietta

Thanks to a $10,000 grant to Marietta Main Street, Bike Marietta will be able to install 50 bike racks throughout the city. Additionally, 2021 will see several downtown kiosks providing cycling information, and a new business partnership program so bike-friendly businesses can connect with riders. “We thought, what can we do to bolster our assets and bring folks downtown?” said Bret Allphin, a board member of Marietta Main Street. “We also focused on accessibility. We have infrastructure for cars and pedestrians, and we know biking is a big deal downtown and something we wanted to build on.” Thanks to the grant, Bike Marietta was able to design a resource guide. A website is coming in 2021 as well.

AmeriCorps Seniors Food Policy Guidelines

In 2020, AmeriCorps Seniors committed to providing volunteers with more healthy, accessible, easy to eat food. Per their recently-updated memorandum of understanding, the organization will ensure at least 50 percent of any food offered to volunteers is a healthy option, like a salad along with pizza or a fruit basket in addition to a donut tray. “The whole model is always with making the healthy choice be the easy choice,” said Ellem. Lisa Valentine, Director of Americorps Seniors, said this new change impacts around 200 volunteers. She added that, after the pandemic ends, she suspects most people will be thinking about being more healthy.

Farm-to-School Program at Fort Frye Local School

A local school district took on a program that allows its cafeteria to connect with local farms to get fresh produce onto school lunch tables. Vienna Indoor Aquaculture, a small farm in Lowell, and Wittens Farm Market provided kale, greens, peppers, tomatoes, and fresh corn on the cob to Fort Frye. The project also allowed for the purchase of a commercial food steamer. Denise Gerber, Fort Frye Local School food service coordinator and head cook, described adding kale and curd, a green leafy vegetable, into an iceberg lettuce salad for kids, along with fresh tomatoes. Peppers and tomatoes were served to kids with vegetable dip. “They especially enjoyed the fresh corn on the cob,” said Gerber. “They liked the green in the lettuce a lot more than I thought they would. We love the steamer.”

Greater Marietta Community Food Pantry

The addition of a freezer to this food pantry made all the difference before a busy holiday season. Sherry Hill, director of the Greater Marietta Community Food Pantry, said the commercial freezer was delivered on site just before the holidays, meaning the pantry could provide hundreds more Thanksgiving turkeys and Christmas hams in 2020 — two of the pantry’s most requested items each year. “This year, it was about getting food to the people who needed it, and this provided more space,” said Ellem. Hill described the pantry as Washington County’s largest, and one affiliated with the Southeastern Ohio Food Bank and the Feeding America program nationwide. It serves more than 2,700 households a year, or around 6,700 people.

“We reach out to pockets in the county we believe are underserved,” said Hill, adding that the freezer from the Coalition enabled the pantry to accept more donations and to purchase more food through grant monies. “We are very grateful to have the freezer,” said Hill. “Yesterday, I accepted a very large donation of red velvet ice cream, a rare commodity, and the freezer is packed with ice cream now. We are very happy about that.” Items currently needed at the pantry include ramen noodles, Lysol and disinfecting wipes, egg noodles, baked beans, tuna, deli, and toiletries like face soap and toothpaste. Thanks to their partners, Hill assured that the pantry is set on one major 2020 commodity: toilet paper.

Palmer Township Playground

Like many rural areas, Palmer Township had a lot of old equipment. Due to safety reasons, it had to be completely removed. But now, thanks to initiative taken by Palmer Township and its trustees, The Ladies Aid Group, the Sisters of St. Joseph’s Foundation, the Marietta Community Foundation, the Washington County Health Department, and other donors, what was previously a gravel lot is now a recreational spot for children. Volunteers helped install new playground features including a swing set and slide on a very cold Saturday. Shannon Hill and Darlene Lukshin were instrumental in securing funding and bringing community partners together to make this project happen.