Imagine you have brought a snack to share with a group of 3rd graders and one of them asks “What is this pink goo?” While another asks, “is this a funny looking apple?” No “alien food” sources here. The “pink goo” is strawberry yogurt and the “funny looking apple” is a red pepper. These children have simply never seen, let alone eaten, them before. Given the chance, they try them and devour them, asking for more.
Unfortunately, this is not an imaginary scenario but one that occurs here in Central Florida. Through the Healthy Informed Playful Kids Program (HIP Kids) and the Kids in the Kitchen programs of the Junior League of Greater Orlando, children are introduced to fruits and vegetables that most of us take for granted.
According to a recent USDA survey, Florida ranks 4th for the highest number of citizens who are food insecure or uncertain as to where their next meal will come from. As the economy deteriorated in Florida and remains weak, hunger and the decline in access to healthy foods have increased. More than 17.5% of Florida’s children live in food insecure homes and more than 27.5% of Floridians are food insecure.
People in underserved communities walk out their front doors and all they see are fast food and convenience stores selling high-fat, high-sugar, processed foods. Residents of rural areas face the challenge of a complete lack of any nearby food options at all. Americans in too many urban and rural communities must travel long distances just to access the fresh food they need to live healthy lives.
According to The Food Trust and other studies, the lack of healthy food options results in significantly higher rates of obesity, diabetes, and other related health issues. Childhood obesity, in particular, is rampant in many of these communities. Underserved communities are also cut off from all the economic development benefits associated with a local grocery store: the creation of steady jobs and the attraction of other retail stores and services to the area.
As Floridians and Americans, we live in the land of plenty. So why is it that so many of our neighbors are hungry and without access to healthy food?
Why not create resources that attract investment in underserved communities by providing critical one time grant and loan financing? These one-time resources would help fresh food retailers overcome the initial barriers of entry into these communities and would support renovation and expansion of existing stores, allowing them to provide the healthy foods they want and need. The Junior League of Greater Orlando advocates for a flexible and comprehensive program that would support innovations in healthy food retailing and assist retailers with different aspects of the store development and renovation process. This includes pre-development costs, energy efficiency upgrades, worker training, and land acquisition and construction. Similar efforts have been undertaken in states like Pennsylvania, New York and Louisiana. Others such as Arizona, Texas, and Georgia are contemplating similar ideas.
Such a program would bring jobs and economic growth to these underserved communities while increasing access to healthy foods. In turn, health issues will decrease resulting in savings on medical care through the Medicaid system and other public programs.
Feed hungry Floridians, and increase jobs and economic growth in Central Florida. Make “alien foods” a thing of the past.
Women working together, empowering kids in need
125 N Lucerne Cir Orlando, FL 32801-3729 (407) 422-5918
Contact: Katie Byrne, VP of Marketing and Communications