The campus-wide health initiative of Oakwood University (OU) in Huntsville, Alabama, United States, titled “Healthy Campus 2020,” marked its fifth anniversary in 2020. With phase 1 completed, Oakwood is looking toward phase 2, “Healthy Campus, Healthy Community,” in which the university intends to promote health beyond its campus and address the needs of community members — one neighborhood at a time.
As part of the phase 2 initiative, Oakwood University’s long-awaited Mobile Market was officially launched on February 2.
This initiative is part of an effort to address food insecurity faced by many residents of north Alabama residing in food deserts, and also to combat diet-related health disparities and co-morbidities that plague so many residents in the deep South, particularly in northwest Huntsville communities.
Through a grant funded by the state of Alabama and the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA), the initiative “Health in the Deep South: An Effort to Combat Health Disparities and Food Deserts in the Deep South” is designed to take fresh fruit, vegetables, and health education to underserved communities of the deep South via a state-of-the-art, customized traveling Mobile Market and Health Education unit.
A Healthy Campus 2020 representative explained, “The Mobile Market is a creative and innovative concept for transporting healthy foods for the expansion of choices and accessibility to fresh food while addressing food insecurity, which the current pandemic has exacerbated.”
The Local Need
The region of north Alabama consists of Madison, Morgan, and Limestone counties and the city of Huntsville. Huntsville’s population is 200,574, according to the 2019 estimate of the United States Census Bureau, and approximately 16.8 percent of the adult population lives below the federal poverty line. The goal of the Mobile Market is to serve low- and fixed-income residents and senior citizens by ensuring prices are affordable and optimizing opportunities for residents who receive public assistance to purchase healthy foods provided by the Mobile Market.
On February 2, the fully equipped traveling Mobile Market officially launched in north Huntsville, aimed at safely delivering affordable, fresh, pesticide-free, locally grown produce on a biweekly schedule.
“We have successfully partnered with local stakeholders to optimize the success of our community health initiative. Thus far, we have partnered with the offices of Community Action Partnership of Huntsville, Madison & Limestone Counties, Inc., the American Heart Association, and the Huntsville Housing Authority,” the Healthy Campus 2020 representative said. “We look forward to expanding our efforts to build partnerships for the continued success of our program and the opportunities that are ahead.”
Through Oakwood's community initiative, the following outcomes are now being achieved: providing health and nutrition education, and providing access to healthy, affordable foods to several identified food deserts and underserved communities.
Behind the Mobile Market
The Mobile Market is an extension of Oakwood‘s Community Health Action Center (CHAC), a community building under construction and scheduled for completion in late spring 2021. This facility will be the site of many community engagements and activities that will address needs from health, wellness, and nutrition to tutoring and fall prevention. CHAC will allow for continuous efforts to meet the many challenges and health needs facing local communities. Completing the CHAC will serve dual purposes, including a site for Healthy Campus 2020 student health ambassador training and providing resources to local communities.
Oakwood students are an integral part of the university’s mission and standing legacy. Student health ambassadors are trained in Oakwood’s eight principles of health (STANDOUT) and equipped to provide service locally, nationally, and internationally. Health ambassadors will take the lead in offering nutrition awareness and health education to community residents and members as part of their service-learning activities with the Mobile Market. Students will promote the consumption of healthy foods through healthy cooking demonstrations, healthy recipe distribution, and providing resources and education on how to live a healthier life.
Health ambassadors will also conduct educational supermarket health tours for interested community residents. This is intended to inform residents of the most effective ways to shop for healthy foods and how to choose foods that will provide the most nutrients and benefits to their daily diet. Through this instruction, residents will become more familiar with healthier choices available for purchase in their local grocery stores and on the Mobile Market.