Decades of deindustrialization and subsequent job losses have taken a significant toll on the financial health of Spartanburg County, once a booming textile center and transportation hub in northwest South Carolina. The economic downturn has also affected the physical health of Spartanburg residents, 70 percent of whom are obese or overweight. Many suffer from multiple problems associated with their weight.
Yet there are advocates trying to improve Spartanburg’s well-being. The county has two decade-old nonprofit groups at work on more nutritious eating and active living for residents. In conjunction with a like-minded coalition of agencies, Partners for Active Living (PAL) and the Hub City Farmer’s Market (HCFM) are pushing ahead on projects to improve the health of current as well as future generations. These include an innovative bike-lending program called Hub Cycle and three farmers markets.
Government is playing an important role, too. The city of Spartanburg and Spartanburg County unanimously passed Complete Streets resolutions, and the County Council approved a hospitality tax that supports parks and recreation. Both city and county are implementing master plans for parks, recreation, pedestrians and bicycles. Such efforts have literally paved the way for additional biking and walking trails, improved sidewalks and bicycle racks, and future policy and environmental changes.
“We’re already seeing the fruits of collaboration in Spartanburg,” project director Laura Ringo said.
Spartanburg County will use funding through Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities to build on all of this and to advocate “connectivity” to parks and healthy food outlets in four at-risk communities: the city’s predominantly African-American northwest neighborhoods, where nearly all students qualify for free or reduced-price school lunch programs, and the majority-White rural communities of Boiling Springs, Pacolet and Woodruff.
While they and their 30,000 residents are geographically separate from each other, each focus area has existing initiatives geared toward physical activity and healthy food. Each contains a park that serves as a natural community center around which additional initiatives can be based. And certainly, each demonstrates a level of readiness to make change happen.
Led by PAL, the organizations involved will assess the environmental factors that keep residents from making healthy choices in their daily lives and then will work on finding ways to overcome the challenges. The HCFM will take its farmers'-market model into more rural parts of the county and consider how to engage low-income residents. The successful Hub Cycle program will be expanded to serve the targeted communities. Other goals include initiating Safe Routes to School and forming a Food Policy Council.
“Our greatest strength is the power of our partnerships,” Ringo said. “We’ve seen a number of different groups with different agendas and across different disciplines come together around the issue of childhood obesity. The result is a cohesive approach in which everyone feels he or she has a role to play.”