Graduated YES! Youth Staff Chris and Adult Staff Katie Warner
Over the past 4 years, YES! has worked towards the elimination of food deserts with the intent to expand access to healthier foods for North Carolinians. YES! has partnered with statewide organizations and engaged the YES! Youth Network to pass a bill that would allocate state funds that would increase healthier food options within Small Retail Stores (corner stores or markets). By creating this change, food insecurity would be lessened and farmers, fishermen, store owners and food distributors would have the opportunity to benefit with more retail opportunities. Along the way, there have been many steps taken in order to build relationships, community buy-in and to prepare to step foot into the NC legislature to advocate for the change we hope to see in our communities.
Since 2013, YES! and our partners have been involved with educating and informing policy makers on the importance of food access. Visiting the North Carolina General Assembly and meeting with our elected officials sparked enough interest among legislators for a study committee to be convened to examine the issue further. The information further educated policy makers, and demonstrated the importance and need for access to healthy food. The launch of this study committee was just the beginning of the Healthy Corner Store movement that eventually established the Healthy Food Small Retail Program (HFSRP).
The following year YES! launched the YES! Youth Network (The Network) which provided mini-grant funding to youth-adult teams across NC to work locally with corner stores to begin conversations with store owners, food growers, distributors and customers to learn what people needed and wanted and how the Healthy Corner Store initiative could benefit each community. The Network groups held in-district meetings to inform and educate elected officials and stakeholders and to gather community support. YES! provided trainings to many of our partners (youth and adults) on the importance of food access, equity and advocacy and supported the development of action plans so that youth could take action on a local and statewide level to support the HFSRP.
After youth and adult leader trainings, YES! and more than 100 members of The Network traveled to Raleigh to participate in the 2016 Advocacy Day at the NC General Assembly, led by our partners at the American Heart Association. Advocacy Day is when YES! and partners meet with representatives and senators at the General Assembly to inform and ask for support on the Healthy Corner Store initiative. We also engaged in meetings with elected officials such as the Governor and Lieutenant Governor. In preparation for advocacy day, members of The YES! Youth Network led a photovoice campaign to gather statewide support, and show legislators just how important and serious of an issue this is to us and to our communities.
In 2016, we experienced one of our first major victories with the HFSRP. The initiative received a $250,000 appropriation in the NC State Budget, the program was launched in December 2016 and is run through the NC Department of Agriculture. These funds are structured to support local corner and convenience stores to be able to stock and shelve healthy foods with proper refrigeration, shelving and marketing materials needed to stock, sell and promote healthier food items.. Although we did not receive the full $1 million dollar appropriation, this was a huge victory and big step in our work for food access and equity in NC. Legislative efforts were led by Representative Yvonne Holley in partnership with Senator Don Davis and Senator Louis Pate, none of this would have been possible without their leadership and support.
Between 2016 -2017, YES! expanded the YES! Youth Network and engaged 9 additional teams across NC to lead local advocacy efforts around food access and corner stores. We began to also work around comprehensive Physical Education in schools. Over the past year, these groups have engaged many corner stores, met with their policy makers, connected with community members and even presented to City and County boards to receive local funds and support for the Healthy Corner Store initiative. YES! was able to partner with the NC Alliance for Health to host a 2017 advocacy day that engaged 80+ youth and adults that traveled to Raleigh to show support for the HFSRP, PE in schools and Youth Tobacco Prevention funding. YES! and the NC Alliance for Health were thrilled when the NC General Assembly included an additional $250,000 in the state budget
YES! is excited about the progress of the YES! Youth Network, the creation and expansion of the Healthy Food Small Retailers Program and what additional outcomes will happen as a result of these successful partnerships and investments in NC’s rural communities. Stay tuned to learn more about The Network!