The H2O program-- helping one Tennessee county improve its health

The pandemic, tight budgets, and a lack of healthy food options are just some of the reasons many families in rural America are struggling right now. However, there is a program designed to help one Tennessee county get healthier.

Just like you have seen on the national news, and happening too in Tennessee. Cars lined up, people waiting to get food.

It is the Farmers-to-Families Food Box Distribution in Hardeman County-- an effort with the Centers for Disease Control, the USDA, UT Extension, and local churches, schools, and volunteers, like Russel and Gloria Shelton.

Russel states, “We wanted to help because it’s the right thing to do... and my wife told me to come.”

“I help because I have neighbors that can’t get out,” Gloria adds.

“Just seeing different churches jump on board, just volunteers who have come out,” Sam Cox states. “The Boy Scouts have helped us, and so it’s just been incredible.”

More than 8,500 boxes, 250,000 pounds of nutritional food, have been passed out in rural Hardeman County. Hardeman is large in land mass, and some people are twenty miles from the nearest store.

UT Extension’s Stephanie Middleton states, “We are very excited about it. There is a growing need as food insecurity does increase, and so we have been very fortunate to be able to serve the members of our community with these boxes.”

This is also part of H2O-- Hardeman Healthy Outreach.

It is a UT Extension program to improve access to healthy food options and encourage physical activity in Hardeman County.

The program was going well before the pandemic, but now the COVID economy makes this work even more vital. UTIA research shows more than half a million Tennessee households, or one in ten families, did not have enough to eat the past few months.

According to UT Extension’s Soghra Jarvandi, “Clearly with COVID, some of the challenges that we knew already maybe became more clear for us and the community.”

She says that H2) goes beyond nutrition and exercise classes, focusing on improving the entire community where people live, work, and play.

“It’s very challenging for people,” she adds. “It’s like an uphill struggle to change lifestyle factors when the environment is not healthy.”

The food boxes were also given out at schools and child care centers, and everywhere, the gift was appreciated.

The growth of the H2O program comes when perhaps it is needed the most-- helping families get through this crisis with the foods they need to be healthy.