GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — A community partnership is educating Latino families in Grand Rapids on fresh food while providing them with the fruits and vegetables they learn about.
Heartside Gleaning, National Kidney Foundation of Michigan, Mercy Health, and the Hispanic Center of Western Michigan formed the program earlier this year to increase access to fruits and vegetables in Grand Rapids’ Roosevelt Park neighborhood, a predominately Hispanic community.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Latinos are at an increased risk for developing diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity. Lisa Sisson, director of Heartside Gleaning, says the risk is tied to a lack for fresh food.
“So many people don’t have the ability to purchase or have transportation to food that they really need to live a healthy life or for their children to have a healthy life,” said Sisson.
The 50 participating families receive two, 15-pound crates every other week.
“We always try to give them some of the basics like potatoes, carrots, and cabbage, a lot of greens, and then, right now, they’re getting a lot of apples,” said` Lisa Sisson, director of Heartside Gleaning.
Before receiving the food though, families learn about where it comes from, the nutritional value, and how to cook with it.
“I see people that have never tried for example, asparagus,” said Carla Sanchez, NKFM program coordinator. “When they find the food basket with asparagus in it, it’s like, ‘Oh my God!’”
The hope is to lower the risk of disease in the families, aiming for 150 minutes of physical activity each week and a five percent weigh loss by the year-long program’s end.
Organizers add this program is needed because of the coronavirus which disproportionately impacts Hispanic people and those with underlying conditions.
“If we can provide them with this fresh produce, hopefully it will make them stronger, have better immune systems,” said Sisson.
Since the program’s start in February, they’ve distributed about 31,000 pounds of food.
The organizations hope to keep the program going in 2021 but are waiting to see if funding will be there.
“I see that people are eating more vegetables, more fruit,” said Sanchez. “They lower their weight, lower their blood sugar. It’s wonderful.”