Second Harvest pairs nutritious food with health tips
A hub of activity could be found June 25 at the Second Line to Health Community Health Fair at the St. Thomas Community Center on Magazine Street.
Families, individuals and Mercy Endeavors clients turned out for fresh produce and a box full of groceries. They were able to access health screenings; dental health and nutritional information; stress-management assistance; and referrals to mental health providers, food pantries and youth services with summer feeding sites for children.
They even learned how to correctly strap a child into a car seat.
“Right now, we don’t have much food, so the opportunity to have vegetables and fresh food will help us,” said Monica Mazzaro, a mother of two. She said there is not much nutrition in a $1 box of macaroni and cheese, so it was wonderful to have the option of nutritional food.
Most attending the fair walked away with a box of fresh fruit and other commodities, including bananas and apples, onions, potatoes, squash, cucumbers, Ensure, black beans and rice and a variety of oatmeal.
This was Second Harvest Food Bank’s fifth pop-up mobile pantry food distribution that included a health fair, said Kimberly Krupa, the food bank’s chief impact officer. Thirteen thousand pounds of food were distributed, most bought fresh by Second Harvest to ensure quality.
“We’ve been doing the mobile pantry pop up,” Krupa said. “We always thought of doing more services than food at the event. We see food as health and food as medicine, and we invited health care providers to share the space with us at the pop up.”
Good food impacts health
Second Harvest president and CEO Natalie Jayroe knows that connecting food and nutrition to health care only can improve lives.
“A lot of illnesses are about nutrition,” she said. “You can’t just treat with medicine without addressing the nutrition part.”
The marrying of a health fair with food distribution has been well received. In Broadmoor at the Rosa Keller Library, Krupa said, “it was a monsoon and yet we had 300 people turn out.” Similarly, 1,000 attended a Katrina-related event, and 500 showed up for a pop up at the Daughters of Charity in eastern New Orleans. Another 300 attended in Houma.
Krupa said the key to making this venture possible has been the involvement of community partners such as the St. Thomas Community Health Center, LAChip, LSU Department of Psychiatry, the YMCA and sponsors from Morgan Stanley. It has opened communication with low-income families on how eating good foods can reduce some of the health problems they are experiencing. Food is a better choice than having to take lots of prescriptions.
“It’s been a blessing to people,” she said. “We have a lot of health fairs and events in our community, so food is a magnet. We are looking at food as an entry point to other services. … Food is health. What you put in your body matters.”
Krupa said Second Harvest is working to incorporate this element of other community services at its 34 monthly mobile pantries throughout the metropolitan area.
“We want it to be a one-stop shop – for people to come, get food and other direct services for them to be well,” she said.