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Meagan Taylor has used part of her role as a SNAP-Ed educator in Lauderdale County to implement a canned food drive at local high schools to support a local food pantry and ensure county residents have food during uncertain times.

Canned Food Drive

The partnership with the Lauderdale County 4-H developed into a Good Choice canned food drive at Wilson and Central High Schools. Good Choice is a partnership between Alabama Extension SNAP-Ed and Alabama Department of Public Health to increase access to healthy foods and encourage people to make healthy choices in food retail or donation settings, such as grocery stores, convenience stores, vending machines, and food pantries.

Taylor taught the students at both schools about Good Choice foods and explained how donating healthy items to local food pantries was a way to support the overall well-being of a community. The students donated 32 cans of food, which helped them meet the Good Choice nutrition criteria to the HELP Center, a local food pantry where Taylor routinely provides nutrition education and support.

Food Pantry

Taylor supports the Help Center by providing nutrition education to clients, offering tastings of healthy recipes using foods stocked in the pantry, and supporting the creation of healthier policies and practices.

Several clients who receive assistance from the food pantry rely on charitable food donations to ensure they have enough to eat for their families each month. Taylor’s work toward providing nutritious foods as part of those donations helps ensure families can put healthy food on the table even when money is tight. This is important because it has been proven that diets high in calories, fat, added sugar, and salt can lead to chronic disease and worsen existing health problems for adults and children over time.

In the spring of 2019, HELP Center was awarded a $2,000 grant from the Junior League of the Shoals to purchase additional refrigeration for healthy cold fresh foods. Once the grant was awarded, the HELP Center purchased cooling units, and ensured clients would be served healthy foods by the Lauderdale County Gleaning Program for surplus fruits and vegetables. The improvements funded by the grant helped create a policy stating that food would be distributed every 30 days instead of every 60 days. With more storage capacity, the HELP Center was able to increase the amount of fresh foods available and the frequency of distributions for clients in need of food.

Taylor also connected the HELP Center with the Lauderdale County Gleaning Program at the Lauderdale County Farmers Market. Farmers at the market donate surplus produce at the end of the market day to local food pantries.

“Guests of the HELP Center are so excited to receive the fresh produce at the food pantry,” Taylor said.

During COVID Response

Though Taylor’s job significantly changed during the pandemic, she learned it didn’t mean she couldn’t be a useful resource.

The Help Center Food Pantry had an increase in community needs during COVID as all schools were closed, and parents needed additional foods for their families. Additionally, seniors in need were making sure they had enough food for two weeks if required to shelter in place.

Taylor supported the food pantry by connecting the pantry to The United Way of Northwest Alabama: Emergency Food and Shelter funds for Phase 37 and CARES Act funding. Eventually, the pantry was awarded $1,800 to purchase need food items for the pantry.

She was also part of securing another $1,000 for the food pantry through The United Way of Northwest Alabama COVID-19 Food Pantry Emergency Relief Fund. Throughout the pandemic, as of August, Taylor has helped obtain $2,800 for food access to Lauderdale County residents.

 “During the COVID-19 pandemic, I found out I could reach out to past partners in the community through working with SNAP-Ed to find grants for local food pantries and schools in need to provide meals to children and families,” she said. “The building of strong partnering relationships in the past was the key success to supporting food access during COVID-19 today.”

To contact Meagan, SNAP-Ed educator in Lauderdale County, call (256) 766-6223 or email her at denniml@aces.edu.

To find more success stories about SNAP-Ed educators, visit LiveWellAlabama.com.

Meagan Taylor

Meagan Taylor, Lauderdale County SNAP-Ed educator