On a recent Saturday, hundreds of Athens residents streamed through the gates of the West Broad Farmers Market.
The lure was roast pig and sides. The price of admission: A 10-minute survey.
The event’s purpose was to discover more about the health of the families who came to enjoy food, music and a good time.
The goal of this and similar events over the next few months is to collect information from 2,000 households in Athens – data that will be incorporated into a national database.
The health needs assessment is a federal requirement for nonprofit hospitals under the Affordable Care Act. Hospitals must complete an assessment every three years.
Athens Regional Medical Center and St. Mary’s Health Care System enlisted Community Connection to carry out the task.
County Commissioner Melissa Link was on hand to welcome attendees. Like other volunteers, she helped people fill out the survey.
“It was the first day of spring, and it was beautiful,” Link said. “There was really a diverse crowd, and we were able to get information from people whose needs usually go unmet.”
The March 21 event was the first of four being hosted this spring by Community Connection, which operates Athens’ 211 helpline. The others are set for this Saturday, April 25, and May 9 and June 6 – each in a different part of Athens-Clarke County.
“When we entered into contract with the hospitals to do this needs assessment – to get the voices of the community reflected in this document that they’ve got to submit – we committed without knowing how we would deliver on it,” said Fenwick Broyard, executive director of Community Connection.
Broyard hit upon the idea of pig roasts as a way to bring together people of different ages, races and backgrounds – and to complete a large number of surveys efficiently. Apparently he was right: Participants in the first big party filled out 600 questionnaires.
A wealth of information
Although hospitals are charged with collecting this information, every health and social service in Athens-Clarke County will benefit from what the survey shows.
“We’re not just talking about data, we’re talking about holding a mirror up to ourselves, finding out what works, and discovering where each of us can contribute,” said Delene Porter, director of the Athens Area Community Foundation.
The fact that each roast will take place in a different part of the county increases the chances of attracting a broad cross-section of residents. And the range of sponsors signals that many organizations are interested in what can be learned. Athens Regional Health System, the Food Bank of Northeast Georgia, Watkinsville First Baptist Church and Athens Area Community Foundation are all involved.
The schedule is available at athenspigroast.com
Participants fill out their questionnaires before going through the gates, and volunteers will be available to assist them with the paperwork if necessary. Those who want to show up and join the feast immediately can go online and fill out the survey in advance. They’ll get a receipt that serves as a ticket to the pig roast.
The questionnaire asks for individual and household information, such as income and education. It also asks about health problems and access to medical care, mental health care and dental care, and about factors such as safe neighborhoods and full-service grocery stores. (The question about stores relates to the availability of nutritious food in a community.)
The answers to the questions should lead to more efficient use of public resources. Athens’ hospitals will know where to focus their resources based on the needs expressed in the survey.
“There isn’t a solid base of data the community can draw from in determining what its priorities are going to be,” said Broyard. “So we’d like to help the community identify for itself what the priorities are.”
Not your everyday meal
Pig roast attendees can’t be blamed if they care less about service planning and more about the savory aromas wafting from the whole hog. Chef Chuck Ramsey from Pulaski Heights BBQ is donating the pig to be roasted at each event, and other local restaurants are donating side dishes.
“Not very many people can roast a whole hog at home,” Broyard said, explaining the singular nature of the spectacle and how it brings out both the curious and the hungry.
“It’s a creative effort. I really enjoyed meeting new people, and this is a good opportunity for us to see what the strengths and challenges are in our community,” said Kirenna Gallagher, director of Family Connection in Oglethorpe County. She also helped people complete surveys at the first pig roast.
The next roast will be on April 25 at the East Athens Community Center.
“We didn’t have a strong representation from the Latino community at the last event, but we’re hoping that we will for this upcoming one,” Broyard said. “The East Athens community is one of the more underserved in Athens, so we’re looking forward to documenting the concerns expressed to us from these folks.”
Spanish-speaking volunteers will be on hand to assist with the surveys.
“We’ve gone out and gotten volunteers to help us administer the survey who are members of that community,” Broyard said. “There is a level of trust in the folks that are going to be helping.”
Locations for the May 9 and June 6 pig roasts will be announced soon and posted at http://www.athenspigroast.com. The survey is also available there.
Sydney Devine, from Valdosta, is currently a first-year graduate student in the Health and Medical Journalism program at the University of Georgia. She works as a research reporter for the university and is interested in health issues in low-income communities.