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Helping Our Rural Neighbors

It was a typical summer day. The air was hot, and the threat of an afternoon shower showed on the horizon. The Rural Outreach team was a little behind on their run due to a larger than usual crowd at their first stop. When they pulled into the next stop a line had already formed and again, there were more people than expected. This was to become a common occurrence and a new challenge for our rural outreach program team.

While poverty and food insecurity tend to be higher in rural communities, Bradford, Levy and Dixie Counties, three of the five counties we serve, have the highest rates of poverty in our state. Families and individuals living in our rural communities don’t have enough resources to obtain the food they need due to a variety of factors including limited income opportunities and lack of transportation. These rural communities are considered “food deserts” meaning they have difficulty finding affordable, nutritious and good-quality food. Many rural communities don’t have enough residents to support major grocery stores or supermarkets which offer a wide variety of affordable and healthy food instead they rely on more expensive and less nutritious foods that are readily available at local small convenience stores or gas stations. These stores have limited floor space and storage areas which prohibit them from keeping fresh fruit and vegetables, dairy products, and other perishable food in stock. They usually have a limited selection of canned goods and personal care items which drives the prices of these items up.

Rural areas tend to have higher unemployment rates and lower incomes. Many families and individuals struggle to meet their basic needs. The continuous lack of access to healthy and affordable foods leads to inadequate nutrition and an increasing the risk of issues including diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.

Our Rural Mobile Food Distribution program provides a number of services for our rural neighbors. We bring food and help to people in these areas who cannot make the journey into town. Clients are provided with bags of food monthly and supplemented with gift cards for supplies. We also distribute personal hygiene products and pet food. At the beginning of the school year we bring backpacks filled with school supplies. During the holidays, we deliver gift baskets and Christmas toys for the children.

We have a distribution sites in Hawthorne, Micanopy and Waldo in Alachua County, We deliver to Stark, Hampton and Melrose in Bradford County, in Cross City and Fanning Springs in Dixie County, Bell in Gilchrist County and Bronson, Otter Creek and Williston in Levy County.

This year, we began a partnership with the UF Mobile Medical Clinic to provide additional services to those who need it most in our rural communities. Our Rural Mobile Outreach program coordinator provides medical referrals to the UF Mobile Medical Clinic for anyone in need of basic medical attention or services such as blood pressure checks or glucose level monitoring. The UF Mobile Medical Clinic will then arrange an appointment for services.

Catholic Charites and the UF Mobile Medical Clinic are working together towards our common mission. By providing vital and much needed services we can improve the lives and health of our rural neighbors. Pictures above our staff packing over 300 bags of personal care items for our Rural Outreach Program.

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