Michael Tierney

Step by Step, Big Ugly

The opportunities to have access to healthy foods (and the skills and knowledge to integrate them into day to day survival) are greatly complicated for families caught up in the drug epidemic in West Virginia.  The counties our Grow Appalachia sites serve in southern West Virginia (Lincoln, Logan, and Boone) are all in the top 30 for opioid deaths in the nation. West Virginia has the top four, six of the top ten and 10 of the top 30 counties across the US.

First, West Virginia is one of seven states that prohibits those with felony convictions from getting food stamps.  So, at the point that people are facing the greatest difficulty in getting jobs—when they are fresh out of rehab or jail—they are also denied one of the basic safety nets intended to prevent people from going hungry.

This year we have formed a new partnership with Hero House, a six-bed recovery home that is a 20-minute drive from the Big Ugly Community Center.  Our new Food Security VISTA Jodi Ruth worked with Hero House and other community partners to successfully apply for a mini-grant from the Try This conference.  Jodi is also a recent Berea graduate and a veteran of internships with Grow Appalachia at the college.

Hero House residents will have their kitchen equipment upgraded, be assisted in putting in raised beds to grow their own food, and will have healthy cooking classes with WVU Extension service and community volunteers. We look forward to having the Hero House team come on board as gardeners in the 2019 season.

We also hope to develop new models for how community volunteers, particularly those from churches, synagogues, and mosques, can help people in recovery embrace healthy food practices.  With Hero House, we will develop a training for how volunteers can effectively teach residents of recovery homes how to cook healthy meals.  And we will pilot kitchen supply donation drives that any place of faith, business or civic group can undertake to equip people graduating from recovery programs or re-entering their community from prison, to set up their own kitchens.

Finally, we are looking for partners from across the region who will help bring together research on how healthy foods aid recovery and how processed food additives can fuel the fire of addictions.  So many foods come with ingredients that are intended to make consumers crave and overeat. We can’t help but think that research will eventually show that those same ingredients skew people’s dopamine levels, a key factor in people’s ability to resist addiction setbacks.

This month is Step by Step’s 30th anniversary. As we head into our second thirty years, our two biggest questions are:  How can we provide continuity in the lives of children whose families face substance abuse disorder? And How can we help parents in recovery become the parents they want to be? Making sure all children and parents are well fed and understand the impact of unhealthy foods on their lives are central to answering those challenges.

If you would like to share ideas of how to help people in recovery and their families grow and prepare healthy food, as well as research that can educate the general public, please contact us care of Jodi:  jruth@stepbystepwv.org or call 304 414 4452.  The images above are from a series produced by another Step by Step VISTA, Rhonda Marrone. We hope to have them on exhibit at the Brushy Fork Institute as part of a presentation on Rural Responses to the Opioid Epidemic. If you would like to share such images contact us at recoverycomesfirst@stepbystepwv.org