The Healthiest Cities & Counties Challenge is about strengthening community, which is today’s National Public Health Week theme.

The challenge is a multi-sector grant initiative to improve health equity. The current round, spanning July 2020 through September 2022, supports work in 20 U.S. communities. APHA is partnering with the Aetna Foundation, National Association of Counties and Healthy Places by Design on the challenge.

One of the communities receiving support is Perry County, Kentucky. Almost a third of the county’s 26,000 residents live below the federal poverty line. The University of Louisville School of Nursing is leading work to reduce food insecurity in the county, partnering with food banks, health groups, churches and others. Organizers are identifying the root causes of food insecurity and creating strategies to improve healthy food accessibility.

We spoke with Frances Hardin-Fanning, PhD, RN, a professor at the university’s School of Nursing, about the project.

How are you learning about food insecurity in Perry County?   
One of the objectives of our project is that we are finding the root causes of food insecurity in Perry. We do that by listening to individuals across multiple sectors of the community, including food security advocates, recently unemployed individuals and college students from the community college. Our student participants, in particular, are a very diverse group, with many of them being older than what we typically see in college students, along with them having other responsibilities, including families and jobs, professions, etc.

What are ways to establish meaningful community connections?
What is already being done and who’s doing it? In Perry County, even though we have a lot of food security banks and pantries, there are a lot of people who don’t take advantage of these resources. We’ve been real cognizant of that and have tried to kind of reduce the stigma of reaching out for help. The second question that is important to ask yourself is what’s working in the community and what’s failed in the past, so we aren’t repeating things that haven’t worked before. If it doesn’t work the first time, it’s probably not going to work the second time.Masked woman in grocery store

How has the challenge support helped efforts?
We hired a project director using funds provided by the challenge. They’ve been able to serve as a liaison between our project’s academic side and community grassroots side. I think a project like this really requires a lot of transparency and frequent communication among the team members. We’ve been able to partner with some other organizations like Save the Children and Farmers to Families to help them integrate a lot of the things that we wanted to do within structures that were already in place.

What are some of the challenges and successes?
We have had historic flooding in Perry County and several of the eastern Kentucky counties. The floods have really brought to light how well the community is able to respond to needs. Fortunately, the food resource organizations that were already in place, both thanks to the coalition and to the challenge, were able to mobilize networks to not only meet the needs of Perry County, but also to reach out to help flood victims in surrounding counties. We are not just giving them donations, but also helping them find additional resources that would be able to help them with food resources.

This interview was edited and condensed.

Don’t miss the NPHW Twitter chat today at 2 p.m. EDT.

Watch and share: Strengthening communities
Durrell Fox, a community health worker and health equity consultant, discusses the impact that strengthening communities has on strengthening public health.


(Photo by Space_Cat, courtesy iStockphoto)