Demarcus and Bobbie Ford knew that healthy eating could change their lives, but they only recently realized just how much.
Less than two years ago, they were living separate lives, Demarcus in Atlanta and Bobbie in Bennettsville, knowing of each other but not knowing each other, and probably not living their lives to the fullest.
Through a health boot camp in Atlanta, Demarcus started making healthier food choices and losing weight. Bobbie saw "before and after" pictures on Facebook and sent him a message asking how he had done it.
"We talked about health for a couple of days on Facebook, and then we started calling each other," said Demarcus, who, like Bobbie, is a Bennettsville native. "It was mostly about exercise and health. We are both Christians, so we connected on that too."
Before long, the couple was in love. Demarcus moved back to Bennettsville in February 2013, to be with Bobbie, and they were married in May. "We just knew," said Bobbie of their short courtship.
Together, they continued to pursue their healthy lifestyles. Demarcus has lost about 65 pounds and Bobbie, 33, mostly through adjusting their diets to include more fresh, whole foods.
Last summer, they started selling fresh fruit cups at the Marlboro County Farmers Market and at community events in Bennettsville and Cheraw. It was a very small enterprise, said Demarcus with a laugh: "We worked out of the trunk of our car. And it was a Mitsubishi Galant, not even an SUV or a truck."
From there, the couple began to entertain the idea of a more permanent business. But they said it wasn't until an article came out in the Herald-Advocate earlier this year that they became convinced of what they wanted to do.
The article was about the overall health of individual communities across the state and nation. It ranked counties on a number of health factors, and Marlboro County was 45th in South Carolina, meaning that only one county had lower overall health.
"That's when we realized, we needed to be here," said Demarcus.
"Here" is Fruitful Souls, a brand-new business located at 132 South Marlboro Street in Bennettsville. Open every day except Mondays, Fruitful Souls offers a selection of fresh fruit cups, fruit salads, parfaits and smoothies, all with the freshest ingredients that anyone could feel good about eating.
"We wanted to bring 'healthy' to this area," said Demarcus. "They have smoothies at fast food restaurants, but we know it's just kool-aid and sugar, not real fruit."
The Fords acknowledge that it was a big risk to open this type of business in a small town where potato chips and milk shakes, not fresh fruit, are more commonly the snacks of choice.
But, they said, that's precisely the point.
"It's more about helping Marlboro County get healthy than it is about making a profit," said Demarcus. "There is a lot of diabetes and heart disease here, and we know that a healthy diet can help reduce those. We want to make a difference."
Low prices are part of the equation too, because they understand that Marlboro County is an economically depressed area. "By charging less, we hope more people will take advantage of what we have," he said.
The reaction so far has been more than they ever imagined. Now in their second week of operation, they served 500 customers in the first week alone, and interest continues to grow, thanks to social media and word of mouth.
"This is what everybody's talking about right now," said Bobbie. "We did not expect that."
As their business grows, they have plans to get the community more involved, through contests, challenges and giveaways that will make eating healthy not just accessible, but fun.
"We're going to be around for a long time," Demarcus said. "We want to make a difference."
For more information, call 439-2104.