Community leaders from various healthcare and nutritional organizations gathered with elected officials Thursday afternoon at the Lifeway Center to announce the formation of FEED DENT COUNTY, a new partnership dedicated to improving health by providing better nutritional food options for local low-income residents.

The event was presided over by officials from Home State Health, a Chesterfield-based healthcare company, which is donating $2,000 towards FEED DENT COUNTY’s first project, expanding the Shepherd Nook Food Pantry’s freezer and cooler capacity.

“We are a healthcare company, but we serve the Medicaid population and know nutrition, and quite honestly hunger, are big issues,” said Kimberly D. Tuck, RN, Chief Executive Officer and President of Home State Health. “We would like people to focus on their health, but know there are many struggles in their lives; like housing, food, transportation, that gets in the way of focusing on making healthy choices. This is a way to work with the food pantry to support their effort of helping people have better nutritional options and solve, to a degree, one of their problems. Hopefully, that will allow them to get more health checkups and getting their kids to see a doctor and dentist.”

Tuck recognized Bill Stack, the Director of the Shepherd’s Nook Food Pantry, as the foundation on which FEED DENT COUNTY’s first project has been built. Stack thanked all of the FEED DENT COUNTY partners, saying that the freezer and cooler expansion will more than double the food pantry’s storage capacity.

“It’s not every day someone (Home State Health) calls from out of town and says ‘Hey can we give you a lot of money? So we are very grateful for your help and interest,” Stack said. “From the very beginning in 2001 we haven’t done this by ourselves. I want to thank the Lord for his help, the Lord uses people, and we’ve been blessed with the help of many wonderful individuals. I also want to thank the local community. The funds for this project have come from area churches, business and people. We appreciate all of your help.” 

Terra Lamb of Ozark Food Harvest also spoke to the crowd to explain why the organization is donating a $22,000 grant to the project.

“Just in 2016 alone, Ozarks Food Harvest has provided over 266,000 pounds of food for Dent County. With numbers like that you can see why a refrigerator/freezer is such a critical need in meeting those efforts,” Lamb said.

In addition to the Shepard’s Nook Food Pantry, Ozark Food Harvest and Home State Health, the members of the FEED DENT COUNTY include Salem Memorial District Hospital, Dent County Health Center, Healthy Dent County and Dent County Extension.

Tuck said Home State Health is launching similar efforts in the region as part of a statewide expansion the company is planning next year. Home State Health is currently operating in 54 counties along the I-70 corridor but is planning to expand to all 114 Missouri counties, Tuck said.

“How we try to approach healthcare is we don’t come in and replace things, we find out what’s available and work on services to wrap around existing efforts,” Tuck said.

A press release issued for the event says FEED DENT COUNTY’s mission is to reduce the rate of chronic disease and illness in Dent County by coordinating efforts among community healthcare providers, food access organizations, nutrition education programs and concerned community organizations to provide low income residents opportunities increase healthy outcomes.

“One of the causes for Dent County’s high rates of obesity, diabetes and other chronic diseases in the poverty population, is not only lack of access to healthy food, but the coordination of this issue with the primary healthcare providers for this population,” the press release states. “Rather than create a new organization, program or process, the FEED DENT COUNTY partners and cooperating agencies (Shepard’s Nook Food Pantry, Salem Memorial District Hospital, Dent County Health Center, Healthy Dent County, Home State Health, Ozarks Food Harvest, and Dent County M.U. Extension) united in the summer of 2016, to increase coordination and awareness on this issue. The increased local coordination of primary healthcare and access to healthy food and nutrition education provide the opportunity for empowerment and change to individuals in the poverty population.

“FEED DENT COUNTY believes individuals in the poverty population are empowered to own their health and make better lifestyle decisions when access to healthy food and nutritional counseling are coordinated with their primary care. The intended result is to slow and reduce the county’s increasing trend rate for obesity, diabetes and other chronic diseases.”