Community members and local nonprofits agree — the South Side of Columbus, Ohio is ripe for renewal. A century ago, this area of Columbus was a thriving manufacturing center. Then, a few decades later, economic, political and social shifts led businesses across the South Side to close. Families moved away. Poverty grew across the South Side of Columbus.
Today, many in the neighborhood continue to struggle with poverty and related challenges like hunger. However, transformation is underway. Through private investment and government support, a group of 14 nonprofit organizations are driving that transformation; they’ve opened workspaces in the Reeb Avenue Center, a vibrant community center on the South Side, so they can work together to holistically meet the community’s needs. Mid-Ohio Foodbank, a member of the Feeding America network, operates South Side Roots on-site to offer healthy food and nutrition education to people in the community who are facing hunger.
South Side Roots’ pay-what-you-can Cafe builds inclusiveness and encourages healthy eating by making it possible for anyone to come in and be nourished regardless of what’s in their wallet. The menu features farm fresh meals and updates seasonally. Customers can pay for their meal with the option of covering another person’s meal too. If a customer is unable to pay, they may be eligible to use a gift card to cover the meal cost, or they can volunteer one hour of time in the kitchen as payment. This model has made the Cafe a place where everyone in the community can receive a wholesome meal.
In addition to the meals served through the Cafe, South Side Roots hosts a free dinner as another way to bring people together. This evening meal takes place every Tuesday from 5:30 PM to 7:30 PM in the Cafe and features fresh, healthy and well-balanced meals cooked in-house.
South Side Market, which provides affordable and fresh foods, uses a clever incentive to promote better health and nutrition among some of the neighborhood’s most impoverished households. A grant from the USDA enables the market to offer a special deal to community members who participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps. If a SNAP participant purchases $5 worth of eligible fruits and vegetables, they receive a $10 gift card to buy more eligible fruits and vegetables on their next shopping trip. This goes a long way in helping stretch grocery budgets and creating balanced meals all month long.
In addition to making it easier to enjoy nourishing food, South Side Roots also offers nutrition education. The Kids Cafe program teaches local children about key nutrition principles, like the importance of portion control and eating a wide variety of healthy foods. The children also enjoy Taste Test Thursdays, when they get to sample a seasonal fruit or vegetable prepared by a chef three different ways. Each child goes home with information about the nutritious foods they sampled.
The South Side of Columbus was once an economic powerhouse, and then sadly, everything changed. Now, the community is betting that that they can change things again, but this time for the better. The organizations and programs working together in the Reeb Avenue Center are connecting people in the neighborhood with opportunities to improve their lives. South Side Roots plays an important role in this work by helping local residents access nutritious food today, while also providing the knowledge and skills they need to lead healthier lives over the long term.
*Photos provided courtesy of Mid-Ohio Foodbank.