• At least 2,500 Caldwell County residents see benefits of healthy “sparks"
  • Sawmills Farmers Market draws 5oo fresh fruit and vegetable customers weekly
  • Community gardens yield produce for soup kitchen, correctional center inmates
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Caldwell County communities are healthier places to live for at least 2,500 people who are eating fresh vegetables and fruits and have increased physical activity. Citizen leaders of 11 short-term projects funded with $3,000 grants last spring have sparked the healthy changes for the better in their communities.

Everyday citizens in Caldwell County – from school-age children, to farmers, to church members – led the projects as part of the pilot program Sparkplugs for a Healthy North Carolina. The initiative is a project of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina (BCBSNC) Foundation in partnership with the N.C. Council of Churches, N.C. Recreation and Park Association, N.C. PTA and the Center for Environmental Farming Systems. The Rensselaerville Institute, a BCBSNC Foundation grantee, provides sparkplugs with intensive technical support throughout the planning, creation, and implementation of the projects.

“When it comes to making North Carolina’s communities healthier and more active, we believe the most creative solutions come from inspired individuals with the passion to make a difference for their neighbors,” said Kathy Higgins, BCBSNC Foundation president. “Everyday people are leading remarkable changes for a healthier Caldwell County.”

Caldwell and two other counties – Lenoir and Scotland – were selected for the pilot based on low rankings for community health. The three counties in three regions of the state also were selected because each has strong community leaders excited about making healthy changes.

Caldwell’s “sparkplugs” have led to many the positive changes.  Among those projects are:

  • Sawmills Farmers Market:  More than 600 of Sawmill’s 5,000 residents were on hand when the town’s Farmers Market opened last June.  Nearly that many are still turning out every Tuesday between 3:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. to buy locally-grown fruits, vegetables and home canned products. 
  • Plant a Row for the Hungry:  Eleven-year-old Daniela Berry and her parents Darlene and Andy Berry, are the sparkplugs for Plant a Row for the Hungry (PAR) project to encourage backyard gardeners, residential communities and community gardens to “plant, grow, harvest, eat and share.” As a result, 260 inmates at Caldwell County Correctional Center are eating more fresh produce and meals prepared for the Yokefellow Christian Ministries’ soup kitchen now include fruits and vegetables.
  • I Can Do Yoga!:  Sparkplug Shelli Welch teaches Yoga to more than 40 developmentally-challenged adults weekly at the Mulberry Recreation Center and Gateway Center in Lenoir. She uses yoga to improve the physical and mental well-being of the adults with disabilities such as autism and cerebral palsy.
Other Caldwell projects include: a vegetable garden at the First Presbyterian Church that supports a soup kitchen and hopes to provide food for a women’s shelter; a garden at the Church of God in Granite Falls that increased access to fruits and vegetables for 175 individuals – using seeds and plants from Plant a Row; and 140 individuals in 45 families gathering for physical activity through the These Feet Were Made for Walking project.

About the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation:
The Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation is a separate, independent, nonprofit Foundation dedicated to improving the health and well-being of North Carolinians.  The Foundation's focus areas include: Health of Vulnerable Populations - improving health outcomes of populations served by safety-net organizations; Healthy Active Communities - increasing physical activity and encouraging healthy eating habits; and Community Impact through Nonprofit Excellence - increasing the effectiveness of nonprofit organizations.  BCBSNC Foundation invests in programs and services in response to grant requests and proactively creates initiatives or partners with organizations to address specific needs.  It also coordinates several Signature Programs, among them, Be Active Kids® and Healthy Community Institute for Nonprofit Excellence.  More information is available at bcbsncfoundation.org
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation are independent licensees of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association (BCBSA)® Registered Marks of the BCBSA.