SSM Health’s 2020 mini grant recipients, with help from the hospital’s funding, tackled crucial health needs such as food access, breastfeeding education and mental health access in Rock County over the last year.

The health care organization hopes to target more social determinants of health with next year’s grants, which will be open to projects targeting a wider variety of community health goals than in the past.

Nonprofit organizations can apply now for SSM Health’s 2021 mini grants.

SSM Health hosted its annual community breakfast and mini grant presentation Friday.

Social determinants of health are factors in people’s lives that contribute to health and well-being that can’t always be addressed in a doctor’s office, including:

  • Education.
  • Neighborhood and community.
  • Economic stability.
  • Social health.
  • Food.
  • Safety.

The 2020 grant recipients— Community Action’s Merrill Community Garden, Rock County Breast Feed Coalition and YWCA Rock County— addressed issues such as food security, breastfeeding education, mental health, substance abuse, community relationships and equitable access to services.

YWCA Rock County

YWCA used funds to provide on-site mental health and addiction services to individuals at its shelter for those who have experienced domestic or family violence, said Jessi Luepnitz, program director for crisis services.

Many of the people the YWCA serves struggle with addictions, sometimes to drugs, alcohol, food, smoking and even to unhealthy relationships, Luepnitz said.

The YWCA previously struggled to provide aid for those who needed addiction services, Luepnitz said.

Funding helped the YWCA form an agreement with a mental health provider to offer support groups and individualized support at the shelter, a service the YWCA will be able to sustain moving forward, Luepnitz said.

Community Action’s Merrill Community Sharing Garden

Kaelyb Lokrantz, garden manager, said the $5,000 grant from SSM Health helped the organization build an education space, build a driveway, add informational signs and buy more natural resources for the garden that sits on three city lots in Beloit’s Merrill neighborhood.

Community members are welcome to come to the garden during growing season at any time and take whatever produce they want with no charge, Lokrantz said.

The garden has flowers, native landscaping and about 1,400 food-bearing plants, Lokrantz said.

The grant was a massive help to get the garden necessary infrastructure to provide programming in the future, Lokrantz said.

The garden saw a huge uptick in visitors in 2020 as the coronavirus pandemic brought with it economic uncertainty and after the closure of Beloit’s Save-A-Lot store, Lokrantz said.

Food that does not get picked by community members is picked by workers and volunteers who deliver the food to neighbors’ doors, Lokrantz said.

Rock County Breast Feeding Coalition

The breastfeeding coalition used its funding to provide breastfeeding education to 40 community members and conduct a community needs assessment to gauge where gaps in services exist within the realm of breastfeeding, said Kristin Weber, breastfeeding coordinator.

A survey done by the organization showed mothers who recently gave birth thought there was lacking support for breastfeeding at workplaces, hospitals, clinic and on social media, Weber said.

The educational program is aimed to help community leaders better promote breastfeeding at a variety of county venues and workplaces, Weber said.