On Saturday, May 21, families, nutritionists and local residents gathered in Woodland Presbyterian Church, located at 401 S. 42nd St., for the third annual Eats and Beats fundraiser, a benefit dinner celebrating the efforts of local students who strive to improve the health and wellness of West Philadelphia.
The event, which took place from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., was hosted by the Urban Nutrition Initiative (UNI), an organization that works to improve community nutrition and wellness throughout urban neighborhoods.
The benefit dinner featured music from a local artist as well as a selection of healthy foods, many of which are locally grown and distributed in the area.
During the program, attendees devoured spring vegetables, stuffed mushrooms, mixed green salad, bio-diversity chicken potpie, locally grown strawberries and homemade applesauce, most of which grown, harvested, prepared and cooked by the students in the program.
Among many things, UNI strives to improve the community by teaching, producing and providing healthy food to residents.
Ty Holmberg, one of UNI’s coordinators said the youth participants teach the community healthy eating and nutrition habits through gardening, cooking and selling fresh produce.
“Our program is student focused, so that means students are involved in all aspects of the [nutrition initiative],” Holmberg said.
The program has not only educated youth on healthy eating and nutrition practices, but has also served to empower them, by providing active leadership roles for them in the program and in the community.
In the past, the Eats and Beats benefit dinner, has served to raise money to allow the students to attend the Rooted In Community conference, which is a youth led conference highlighting the leadership roles of youth in their communities.
The Urban Nutrition Initiative (UNI) is a university-community partnership based at the University of Pennsylvania. The program strives to foster healthy eating habits amongst locals through nutrition education.
To achieve this mission, UNI works to increase the supply of healthy foods throughout urban neighborhoods and encourage and support active lifestyles.
Lan Dinh, a recent University of Pennsylvania grad who has worked with the program for three years said the program’s mission is to ultimately reach out to the community and foster healthy eating habits amongst West Philadelphians.
“We wanted to bring community members together to spread awareness and celebrate the students work,” Dihn said.
Indeed, the students who work and intern with UNI have a lot to celebrate.
In an effort to spread awareness on healthy eating and wellness, the students educate local residents on healthy eating habits and practices, obesity, recycling practices, the importance of sufficient water consumption and healthy living.
In addition, the high school students who also double as peer educators, entrepreneurs and gardeners, teach residents how to cook and eat healthy, by providing them with simple affordable cooking recipes.
Through UNI’s Youth Urban Mobile Market, students make fresh locally grown food accessible to residents by selling fresh produce throughout the neighborhood and through local farmers markets.
“We want to make healthy food available to urban areas,” Carissa McCann said, a nutrition peer educator at UNI.
Currently, McCann is a student at West Philadelphia’s School of the Future, one of three schools in the area that has collaborated with UNI to increase food and nutrition knowledge amongst today’s youth.
McCann, like many other area school students in the program, gravitated to UNI to foster her own healthy eating habits as well as spread the word to local residents about the importance of consuming locally grown produce.
“Overall [UNI] has opened my mind to a lot of things,” McCann said. “We not only practice healthy eating, we help save the planet.”
For information on UNI, visit their website.