Targeting issues of obesity and hunger are a growing trend, but it is unlikely to see both as a common initiative for one program. Attacking obesity and hunger together may seem far-fetched when at the root they are seemingly quite different.
St. Christopher’s Foundation for Children (SCFC) has found the bridge connecting the two prevailing problems and has come up with a solution for a region of Philadelphia.
SCFC started a fresh produce distribution program called Farm to Families. The program provides consistent, weekly access of fresh, healthy foods to Kensington and the neighboring communities of eastern North Philadelphia.
“The initiative was launched in 2010 with seed funding from the Convergence Partnership Fund of the Tides Foundation,” said Ann Hoskins-Brown, program director at SCFC, “We’ve since received a United Way of Southeastern Pennsylvania Innovative Partnership Prize as well as support from CIGNA Foundation, Claneil Foundation, William Penn Foundation and Shire Pharmaceuticals.”
SCFC funds SHARE (Self Help and Resource Exchange) Food Program to process, put together and deliver the food boxes to the distribution sites. SHARE, a non-profit organization dedicated to serving organizations who help the community with food distribution, education and advocacy on healthy living and eating, relies heavily on volunteers with only 10 paid staff members on board.
Working together, along with many other donors and partners, SCFC, SHARE and New Kensington Community Development Cooperation (NKCDC) have successfully packaged fresh food and started a healthy eating trend in the community.
During the warmer months Farm to Families focuses on getting local produce, allowing for the freshest produce possible as well as supporting local famers. In the winter months, at least 50 percent of the box contains locally grown produce, while the remaining items are added for a variety of nutrition and taste.
“We like to keep the nutritional content more holistic and diversified as well, its not just about the local farming,” said Ariel Diliberto, Sustainable 19125 project coordinator at NKCDC.
Additional items may be purchased along with the packed box, including eggs, cheese, yogurt and meats.
Farm to Families is bridging, “the connection between nutrition and health and food equality, which is equal access to affordable fresh and healthy food for all,” Diliberto said.
The boxes sell for $10 or $15 and can be picked up at six different locations, offered at various days and times of the week. However, the orders must be purchased a week in advance, so while there is no waste when putting the boxes together, the customers don’t know what will be in the box.
“With a $10 box of produce and you typically get about 8-10 vegetables, whether they like it or not, it gives them a chance to try new things and cook new things,” said Wesley Blades, Fresh Food Director at SHARE. “(It) depends on the person if they have the time to cook or if they are open-minded to new things.”
For adventurous residents in the Kensington area who are looking for a bargain on fresh, healthy food, the tightly packed cardboard box may be just the right thing. Close to 400 residents in the area have participated in the program already.
Amie Brandt, a resident of Fishtown who has been picking up boxes for six months said, “It increases the availability of produce in the neighborhood and it helps me a lot because it’s hard to think what to cook every week, so it gives me some guidance.”
Farm to Families does more than provide boxes of fresh groceries. In partnership with the Health Promotion Council (HPC) Farm to Families provides nutritional education. They host various programs to educate the community on healthy cooking. At Norris Square Neighborhood Project HPC holds a series of cooking classes, which targets children who participate in their after-school programs.
In keeping with the original goals of targeting obesity, St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children, which serves as one of the Farm to Families distribution sites has started a program called FreshRX. Physicians use Farm to Families as a resource for patients who are “overweight or obese, at risk of becoming overweight or obese, experiencing Failure to Thrive, or experiencing food insecurity.” Hoskins-Browns said, “The physicians are now able to use a special prescription pad to actually prescribe Farm to Families as an intervention in the same way they might prescribe a medication. The patient gets a $5 discount on the purchase of their first box by presenting their prescription.”
In just their second year, Farm to Families has provided more than 28 tons of fresh produce to the families in eastern North Philadelphia.