More than three years ago, PolicyLink, The Food Trust and The Reinvestment Fund began a campaign, with partners and stakeholders from across the country, to secure funding for a comprehensive federal response to address the limited and inequitable access to nutritious foods in low-income communities in both rural and urban America.

As part of the inaugural group of Healthy Food Financing Initiative (HFFI) grantees, the SC Community Loan Fund (CLF) has been invited to join a historic convening of grantees, funders, supporters and federal leaders and policymakers on May 8, 2012 in Washington, D.C. Last year CLF applied for and was one of twelve organizations nationally to receive a HHFI award from the U.S. Treasury Department CDFI Fund.

The HFFI has funded a wide range of innovative projects in rural, urban and suburban communities among a diversity of recipients. These projects include an exciting mix of grocery stores, farmers’ markets, cooperatives and healthy food hubs to name a few. This convening offers a valuable opportunity to learn about what others are doing in their communities, to network and to share best practices and resources. Sessions will cover a range of topics from strategies for long-term sustainability, evaluation and measurement, mapping to better understands demand and community needs, and building a successful model.

Additionally, participants will have the opportunity to meet with federal policymakers and grant-makers, including those from the Departments of Treasury, Health and Human Services, Agriculture and Congress.

South Carolina ranks 41st nationally in public health and leads the nation in most of the negative health indices, including cardiovascular and respiratory disease, obesity, diabetes, infant mortality and access to affordable health care. Among the challenges facing our low-wealth communities is access to fresh, healthy food. Currently there are 251,566 residents living in 21 food deserts located in 14 different South Carolina counties.

Yet, the problem goes beyond health; poor communities are often cut off from the economic development opportunities that arise from a local grocery store. $310,900,000 of funds spent on groceries by residents in South Carolina food deserts occurs outside of their local community; this is known as grocery retail leakage. These markets can support 529,000 square feet of grocery retail which directly translates into jobs, transportation cost savings, citizen engagement, economic development, an increased tax base and, most importantly, improved access to healthy food.