Raleigh, N.C. — Food deserts affect 23.5 million people across the country. A local organization is working to combat food insecurity right here in North Carolina.
“We call ourselves the Nanny McPhee of nonprofits,” said SLICE325 founder Shemecka McNeil. “If you need us, we’re here. If you don’t, we’ll leave, but we’ll come back if you need us.”
SLICE325 is a nonprofit organization focused on educating low-income communities on the different ways to eat, budget for and grow healthy food. McNeil shops at the North Carolina State Farmers Market to educate underserved communities on affordable nutrition.
A food desert is defined by the distance communities live from a supermarket. If you live more than a mile from your nearest supermarket, you live in a food desert. According to Feeding America, more than 1.5 million people in North Carolina don’t know where they will get their next meal from.
Some nonprofit organizations attempt to combat this issue by simply bringing healthy foods to these communities, but the issue requires so much more.
SLICE325 provides not only access to healthy food but also education on how to maintain a healthy diet.
Founded in 2017, the organization is based around a free five-week course that demonstrates different ways to maintain a healthy diet. Past participants include seniors, students and people experiencing dietary and other health issues.
Yet McNeil believes her younger students are the most important.
“If I teach them how to keep them interested, hopefully when they grow up then they’ll follow along with what they were taught,” McNeil said.
The organization aims to bring innovative ways of healthy eating to its students, often combining music with healthy recipes. Aside from the recipes, she also teaches budgeting and gardening.
“Most of the food insecurities are lack of education, meaning not knowing what to eat, how do I eat, where can I go to purchase food, what’s available?” McNeil said.
SLICE325 helps people in low access and low-income communities use what they have to get what they need, all while having a little bit of fun.
“It’s kind of everything they taught you in home economics, but we put the music and the arts element to it,” said McNeil, adding that she gets inspiration for recipes from music and colors.
One of the main goals of the program is to teach families to shop where their money goes further. For example, McNeil will often get the food for her demonstrations from the North Carolina State Farmers Market or low-priced grocery stores.
“By us being able to travel around, we can go into the food deserts and say, ‘Hey this is what we have. Try it so when you go to the grocery store or farmers market you will be more inclined to buying it because you had some type of introduction into what’s new,’” she said.
At the root of it, McNeil wants her students to have a good time.
“It’s fun,” she said. “That’s what motivates me; it’s fun. I like to meet people. I like to meet different people. I call myself a diversity hire, so I want to be diverse in every way possible, so the more I do this the more I educate myself.”
McNeil said her family inspired her to start SLICE325, and they remain as a key motivator for her work.
“Just being able to sit down and have a healthy meal to feel good with your family, that says, well, it speaks volumes to me because most people don’t get that,” she said.