McDowell County, located in North Carolina’s southern Appalachian Mountains, is overwhelmingly white. African-Americans are approximately 4 percent of the population, and less than 3 percent of residents are Latinx. McDowell’s county seat, Marion, is no less stratified, and this uneven population distribution has historically led to lopsided power imbalances in the region. People living in the predominantly black section of West Marion say that their community was often the last to see plows after a snowfall. Substandard housing proliferated and fresh food was scarce.

Community leaders in West Marion were tired of being treated like second-class citizens. So they started holding community conversations at a small local church to discuss these disparities and how they might upend the status quo. One of the first projects they undertook was the founding of a community garden.

The Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust, based in Winston-Salem, works statewide to improve the health and quality of life of financially disadvantaged residents, and since 2012 it has partnered closely with McDowell County through the Healthy Places NC initiative. With Healthy Places NC, Trust staff spend time in underserved rural areas like McDowell County to gain a greater understanding of how to address the health needs of marginalized populations.

Through the Trust’s Healthy Places NC initiative, we are doing long-term, community-driven health-improvement work in 10 rural counties. Each of these counties identifies healthy eating and active living as key focus areas. To meet this need, we have invested in playgrounds, walking trails, community gardens, farmers’ markets, and parks.

Foundations often find that communities starved of resources lack the organizational infrastructure to seek grant funds. The Trust employs several strategies for addressing this challenge. We contract with an intermediary organization that provides networking, facilitation, and organizational development services for the under-resourced communities.

Read the full article about supporting healthy living through an equity lens by Laura Gerald at Stanford Social Innovation Review.