- Associated Press - Monday, January 30, 2017

ARCADIA, S.C. (AP) - In a small kitchen at Arcadia United Methodist Church, a group of Wofford College students browns some ground turkey on a hot stove for a taco meal that will be served to children in the Arcadia community.

Nutrition Now, an offshoot of the Wofford student-led Arcadia Volunteer Corps, was founded two years ago. The group provides several healthy meals a week to Arcadia Elementary School first-graders participating in ARCH Ministries, an after-school program housed at the church.

“We thought, if we tried giving them healthy food, would they eat it,” said Annie McDermott, one of the founders of Nutrition Now. “We kind of just jumped right in and have been going from there.”

On the afternoon of Jan. 19, McDermott, senior Lauren Crawford and freshman Laurel Lee prepared turkey tacos for about 34 children.

Once the turkey was cooked, the trio layered taco shells with lettuce, turkey meat and cheese.

“If you can build nutrition and nutrition education in their lives, and hopefully their parents’ lives, that can kind of spill over and have an impact throughout their life,” McDermott said.

Everything from ham and cheese sandwiches on wheat bread to the tacos has been served by Nutrition Now volunteers.

Sometimes the children will happily accept healthy food. Other times, it’s more of a struggle.

“They will eat, like, brown rice with broccoli and grilled chicken, but sometimes sweet potatoes are not a hit,” McDermott said. “It can be surprising what they like to eat. Every kid comes from a different background and I think their nutrition choices are impacted by that. If they like it, they can go home and say, ‘hey mom, I had carrots for dinner tonight, can you buy carrots for us.’”

Arcadia is classified as a food desert, McDermott said. That means nutritious food isn’t easily found in or near the community.

During January interim, Nutrition Now is only at the church twice a week. Typically, when more students are on campus at Wofford, volunteers will provide four meals a week to about 50 children.

Wofford students chose to volunteer in Arcadia partly because of the high Hispanic population in the area. Most of the students working with Nutrition Now have taken advanced Spanish classes, which helps when communicating with some of the students and families they serve, McDermott said.

During the 2015-16 academic year, the healthy eating initiative received a $2,500 grant from the Mary Black Foundation.

McDermott said the group hopes to raise more money this year to sustain the program in the near future and beyond.

Donations are welcome, she said - about $125 covers dinners for about 50 children four times a week.

“We want to branch out and work with the kids more, and the families more especially, once we can kind of become a more sustainable organization,” she said.

JoAnne Smith, director of ARCH Ministries, said the program’s goal is to prepare children for the future academically and behaviorally.

“Wofford has been on board for over 10 years. Oh my goodness, they’re just a blessing to me,” she said. “They come over, they volunteer, they show leadership, they take our babies to their campus, they mentor them, they just become like big brothers and big sisters to them.”

Lee said she got involved soon after learning about the project. She wanted to have a positive impact on the group of Arcadia students because she knew the importance of establishing healthy eating habits when young.

“I thought that was so cool because I think healthy food can play a big part in growing up,” Lee said. “Once you meet the kids, you want to do anything you can to help support them.”

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Information from: Herald-Journal, http://www.goupstate.com/

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