Wande Okunoren-Meadows, Executive Director of Hand, Heart and Soul Project (HHSP), isn’t one to wait for permission. As a self-described “agitator,” her perseverance and dedication to the work is why the nonprofit is where it is today — and has plenty more room to grow.
Co-founded by Okunoren-Meadows and her mother in 2018, HHSP advocates for food sustainability in early childhood education in Clayton County. Put simply, they want all kids to have the opportunity to eat their vegetables, regardless of their socioeconomic status.
“Had it not been for larger grants from the Truist Foundation, United Way of Greater Atlanta, and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, had it not been for those three major grants, I still would have been hustling,” says Okunoren-Meadows, whose organization has grown exponentially since its inception. “The goal is not to make kids like any kind of foods, but repeated exposure to the same types of foods in many different forms is key,”
According the United Way’s 2023 Child Well-Being Outlook: Insights for Impact Report, one issue that Clayton residents face is limited access to fresh foods, with 18% of low-income residents having low supermarket access. In one neighborhood, a staggering 66% of low-income residents do not have easy access to a supermarket. Across the 13 counties that comprise Greater Atlanta, the average for this same measure is 10%.
In the same report, United Way also found that of 70 neighborhoods that make up Clayton, only five of them are considered average need, with the remaining falling in high and highest need categories. This is evidence of a systemic failure to provide residents with necessary supports to thrive.
As part of the solution, HHSP has installed gardens at seven early learning centers across Clayton County at which students are free to learn, taste, and explore at an age where nourishment is crucial. While the nonprofit has tentacles around the county, the work they have ahead of them is not a simple task.
Okunoren-Meadows explains, “I can say that in some ways philanthropy is changing, yet in some ways it still remains the same in some spheres.”
While there is movement towards easing the burden of proof placed on nonprofits to receive funding, the fact of the matter is that community needs exist outside of a grant cycle. If you would like to support HHSP in their work in Clayton, visit their website.
United Way is proud to support HHSP and other community-based nonprofit organizations throughout their 13-county footprint. In 2022, they invested over $14 million into programs and initiatives that champion change for the community by the community. Investments like these aren’t possible without your support. Help unlock the potential of children, families, and communities today by donating to the United Way’s Child Well-Being Mission Fund.