A look at New Orleans’ grocery stores 10 years after Katrina

Original article by Rachel Pearson in The Guardian (August 18, 2015). Link to the original article here.

Black residents gain increased access to grocery stores post-Katrina, study says

New research released 10 years after hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans shows that more residents can access fresh, healthy food at grocery stores. Lead author Adrienne Mundorf of the Tulane Prevention Research Center has found not only that the absolute number of grocery stores in New Orleans has rebounded to pre-Katrina levels, but also that racial disparities in access to grocery stores have decreased.

In New Orleans, racial disparities in food access worsened in the first years after the storm. But by 2014, more new supermarkets had moved into predominantly African American neighborhoods, the study published in the Journal of Urban Health found.

There is no bright line of evidence that points from grocery stores to better health, but many studies, when considered together, link access and health. Americans who live near grocery stores eat more fruits and vegetables on average, and inserting grocery stores with culturally appropriate, affordable food options into struggling communities can cause measurable improvements in health. These improvements are particularly marked, Mundorf explained, when improved access to fresh food is accompanied by nutrition education.

A major 2012 report by the Institute of Medicine focused on obesity as an environmental disease, arguing that policymakers can combat obesity most effectively by ensuring that low-income communities and communities of color have access to healthy foods, safe places to exercise, and evidence-based wellness education in schools and doctors’ offices. Mundorf’s findings suggest that policymakers in New Orleans are beginning to heed this research.

Mundorf attributes the progress in New Orleans in part to a “feeling of rebuilding” in the city, and potentially also to the Fresh Food Retailer’s Initiative(FFRI), a cooperative venture between the city, the Food Trust, and the Hope Enterprise Corporation. The FFRI provides low-interest and forgivable loans to help grocers expand, rebuild, or start new grocery stores in vulnerable neighborhoods in New Orleans.

Julia Koprak, senior associate at the Food Trust, explained that the upfront financing helps get new stores established. However, FFRI-funded projects are expected to be self-sustaining in the long run. “By reducing the cost gap to get started, we’ve been able to get grocers established in neighborhoods where they wouldn’t otherwise,” Koprak said.

So far, the FFRI has contributed funding for four of the 17 supermarkets that have been founded or rebuilt in New Orleans since 2007. Koprak said the Food Trust hopes to announce new partnerships in New Orleans later this year.

“Improving access to groceries is not just about health,” Koprak said. “It’s about economic development, community revitalization, and everyone deserving access to healthy fresh food no matter where they live.”

And yet some New Orleans neighborhoods – including neighborhoods in New Orleans East and the Lower Ninth Ward – still lack grocery stores.

In the Lower Ninth Ward, a historically African American neighborhood devastated by Katrina, the Backyard Gardener’s Network has arisen in part to address the lack of access to healthy food. Volunteers from the neighborhood plant, grow and cook together, drawing on local food traditions and the knowledge of Lower Ninth Ward gardeners and cooks.

Founder Jenga Mwenda has called the lack of access to grocery stores in her neighborhood “an injustice”. Many residents in the Lower Ninth Ward also lack cars, and damaged roads and sidewalks can be impossible to navigate – especially for people with limited mobility.

Mundorf and Koprak both pointed to the damaged infrastructure and historical lack of investment in the Lower Ninth as factors that complicate access to food.

“Ultimately we really support nutrition education, but until you have good access where you live, it’s hard to make use of that education,” Koprak said. “It’s hard to ask people to follow these nutrition guidelines and purchase and prepare healthy food if they have zero choices.”

For Mundorf, the issue of food access is also personal. She survived cancer and the accompanying treatment in her twenties.

“When I was done with treatment, my doctor said, ‘OK, you’re young, your cancer’s gone – stay healthy,’” she said. “Access to fresh fruits and vegetables was integral to my own recovery. Everyone deserves that.”

Louisiana moves forward to increase food access

Original article by Dr. Rani G. Whitfield on huffingtonpost.com (July 17, 2015). Link to the original article here.

Southern States Addressing Access to Healthy Foods

Three Southern legislatures made progress on laws that could help close the gap on the lack of access that millions of its residents have to healthy, fresh food. But advocates say more work is needed to fund the efforts.

“The movement is gaining steam,” said Brian Lang, director of The Food Trust’s National Campaign for Healthy Food Access. The nonprofit works with partners across the country on a variety of ways to improve access to healthy, affordable foods, from better loan terms for stores, subsidies, tax incentives, and a host of other financial packages.

“This is a problem you can fight and solve, in part, through community financing options,” Lang said. “So it becomes a rallying point for people to address the problem in their states.”
Just this past week, and after just one year of winding through the state legislature,Alabama’s governor signed the Healthy Food Financing Act that will give incentives to grocery stores and other retailers to develop in areas of Alabama with limited access to healthy food. However, the cash-strapped state hasn’t funded the initiative. Because of an impasse, lawmakers will head into special session later this summer to hash out the state budget, but it’s unclear whether they will address the new healthy food law.

In North Carolina, lawmakers have built momentum toward passing a Healthy Corner Store Initiative, which would be funded with $1 million. The money would go to local health departments, which would then provide grants to help store owners in food deserts with education about healthy food; buy equipment such as shelves and refrigeration for fresh fruits and vegetables; and connect with local farmers and fisherman.

But funding there isn’t complete yet. The House version of the state’s budget had the provision; the Senate’s did not. North Carolina’s budget negotiators recently took a summer break from negotiations and won’t return until after mid-July.

Louisiana, by contrast, passed a Healthy Food Retail Act six years ago to help grocers and farmers’ markets expand into fresh food-needy areas. The state has never provided funding for the law. Despite coming close this year with bipartisan support in the midst of a budget crisis, the governor recently deleted $400,000 for the program from the state’s budget.

“We hear time and time again that this was a complicated session and it was just a particularly difficult session to ask for money in,” said Emery Van Hook, associate director of Market Umbrella, a nonprofit that runs four Crescent City Farmers Markets in New Orleans and educates and advocates for public markets. “We are still hopeful. And are continuing to work with all our partners, from farmers and doctors to all those in state government, to make something happen next session.”

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, between 20 and 25 million Americans lack access to a grocery store and live in “food deserts”– living more than a mile away in urban areas and 10 miles away in rural places. Studies show this can contribute to a poor diet, which can lead to higher levels of obesity and other diet-related diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease.

Researchers In an article published last year mapped areas around the country based on rural poverty, health, and food access. The authors found that “lower access to healthy foods tends to be clustered in the southern United States and a smaller region of the southwestern United States” – the same areas that have higher rural poverty and lower healthy outcomes. Still the report, said more research is needed to directly tie lack of food access to poor health.

In Alabama, a mapping report earlier this year by VOICES for Alabama’s Children and The Food Trust showed that every county in the state has at least one neighborhood with limited access to fresh food, and that the reality affects 1.8 million people, nearly half of them children. VOICES, a nonprofit, is a longtime advocacy group on children’s issues in Alabama.

Food access is one of the six focus areas for Voices for Healthy Kids®, a joint initiative of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and American Heart Association. Voices for Healthy Kids supported the efforts in North Carolina, Alabama, and Louisiana to increase access to healthy, affordable foods.
Speaking about Alabama, Executive Director Jill Birnbaum said funding is critical to keep the momentum.

“To ensure the viability of this initiative, we encourage state leaders to pursue diverse funding sources,” she said. “A key to the success of programs in other states has been the dedicated funding stream established through public and private partners committed to improving the health and economies of local communities.”

The North Carolina Alliance for Health released a poll funded by the American Heart Association that showed 70 percent of state residents favored the creation of a Healthy Corner Store Initiative. The survey by Public Opinion Strategies included 500 registered voters, and has a margin of error of 4.38 percent.

Sarah Jacobson, healthy food access coordinator for the North Carolina Alliance for Health, said funding from lawmakers, who will be negotiating the state budget later this month, will be an important step in food access for the state. About 1.5 million North Carolinians live in 349 federally recognized “food deserts.”

“It will also help small food retail owners enhance their businesses and provide new markets for North Carolina farmers,” she said. “It will not only benefit public health, it will also benefit local economies and help grow local food businesses.”

The ideas around making fresh and healthy food available through financing have been discussed around the country since the 1980s, Lang said. But they didn’t truly gain traction until 2004, when Pennsylvania created its fresh food initiative providing flexible community financing to attract supermarkets and groceries to low-income areas.

Other places have followed suit. Illinois and New York, and the cities of Detroit, New York, New Orleans, and the District of Columbia have passed fresh food access policies that use financing pools, tax or zoning incentives, or a combination of options.

Pennsylvania’s six-year program, Lang said, became a model. The state seeded the initiative with a $30 million grant, which was leveraged with $145 million in additional investment to provide loans and grants for predevelopment, land acquisition, equipment and construction costs, as well as for start-up costs such as employee recruitment and training.

In Louisiana, Van Hook said the issue encompasses health, equity and economics.
“In an environment where there is so much division, whether in the legislature or in communities, healthy food is a wonderful uniter,” she said. “Food is part of everyone’s life. These initiatives are a win-win for the most vulnerable members of our communities, for the urban and rural areas, for agricultural interests and economic development.”

The positive movement in the South is welcomed, she said, and it inspires more advocates to keep working for more access to healthy food.

“There is so much need in the South and potentially there is so much good that can come from these initiatives,” Van Hook said. “That’s what keeps us going. We know and see the good that can come from it.”

Women with a Vision and Sankofa Community Development Corporation selected by Tulane City Center for new design projects

Original article by Tulane City Center on tulanecitycenter.org (August 3, 2015). Link to the original article here.

Announcing the Jury Selections from TCC Spring Request for Proposals

Tulane City Center is thrilled to announce that our spring 2015 Request For Proposals will result in two new collaborative design projects with local community partners Women With A Vision and the Sankofa Community Development Corporation. Thanks to generous support from Johnson Controls Incorporated, Tulane City Center and Tulane School of Architecture faculty and students provide pro-bono design and planning services to New Orleans based non-profit and community-based organizations for two projects in our IMAGINE and BUILD project streams each fall.   

This year, we received more than double the usual number of requests and our jury had an incredibly hard time selecting only two!  We’d like to thank Ken Schwartz, Kentaro Tsubaki, Geneva Longlois-Marney, Casius Pealer, Bryan Lee, Sarah Satterlee, Isabel Barrios, Tony Lee, and Ron Bechet for sharing their time and talents with us in making this decision.


Our IMAGINE project partner,
Women With A Vision is a community-based nonprofit founded in New Orleans by a collective of African-American women in response to the spread of HIV-AIDS in communities of color. The mission of WWAV is to improve the lives of marginalized women, their families, and our communities by addressing the social conditions that hinder their health and well-being.

Women With A Vision has established itself as a leader in providing relentless advocacy, health education, supportive services, and community-based participatory research as well as a safe space and trusted resource for women of color, especially African–American women, in New Orleans and throughout Louisiana.


Tulane City Center will work with Women With a Vision to develop a design plan for their Vision House, creating an initial design study that will help to secure funding for redeveloping a property to replace their former space destroyed by arson in 2012.


Our BUILD project partner,
Sankofa Community Development Corporation works to build bridges for healthier communities, spur development by addressing health disparities, and support youth empowerment through education and intergenerational learning. The Sankofa Farmers Market has transitioned into the Sankofa Mobile Fresh Stop to reach residents in the Lower Ninth Ward who are limited in transportation and access to fresh produce. 

The Sankofa Fresh Stop and Mobile Fresh Stop provide a healthy food hub in New Orleans built on partnerships with local food producers, businesses, schools, senior citizen centers, health clinics, recreational centers, and faith- based organizations to improve health and wellness for residents of the area.


Tulane City Center will work with Sankofa to design and build a structure that will improve display systems for the Mobile Fresh Stop truck market.  Presentation and branding design will also support the Fresh Stop permanent produce stand.


We’re excited to get to work this fall semester, and we hope to see all of you at Tulane City Center to celebrate the completion of these projects with us in January!

Fit NOLA and Tulane PRC Twitter Chats

Original article by Fit NOLA on nola.gov (March 4, 2015). Link to the original article here

*Since this article was released, there have been several Twitter Chats. The next one will take place on August 6th with guest host Ochsner Health System. The topic is Back to School Health, Nutrition, and Wellness. To participate or view the chat following the instructions below from Fit NOLA.

“In order to participate, you will need a Twitter handle and account. When it is time for the Chat to begin, search the #LiveFitNOLA hashtag or follow the moderators Fit NOLA and Tulane PRC. If you prefer to simply observe the chat taking place, you can view the conversation in real-time here. After the chat is over, you can view the conversation any time by looking under the “Past Chats” section of this webpage.”

Fit NOLA and Tulane Prevention Research Center Launch Monthly #LiveFitNOLA Twitter Chats

NEW ORLEANS – The City of New Orleans Health Department’s Fit NOLA initiative and the Prevention Research Center at Tulane University are teaming up to launch live monthly Twitter chats themed #LiveFitNOLA. Their goal is to engage and educate locals with an open discussion about the culture of health in New Orleans through social media. The first Twitter chat will be held tomorrow, Thursday, March 5, 2015, from noon to 1 p.m., and it will feature Louisiana’s Health & Fitness Magazine as the guest host.

Tomorrow’s conversation will focus on what healthy looks like in New Orleans. Anyone may view or participate in the conversation by using the hashtag #LiveFitNOLA on Twitter. Over the course of an hour, the moderators will issue a series of questions meant to spark interactive dialogue between the host, the moderators and the Twitter audience.

Fit NOLA and Tulane Prevention Research Center will continue to moderate #LiveFitNOLA Twitter Chats that focus on health and wellness in New Orleans on the first Thursday of every month from noon to 1 p.m. Each month, the chat will feature a different guest host to add insight to a specific topic.

To learn more, visit the Fit NOLA webpage and follow the moderators’ Twitter accounts at @TulanePRC and @FitNOLA–as well as the guest host’s account, @healthfitmag. A live feed of the chat can be viewed here.

About Fit NOLA

Fit NOLA is the City of New Orleans Health Department’s initiative to shape a shared vision addressing obesity, a major public health challenge. Fit NOLA is working to make New Orleans one of the nation’s top ten fittest cities by 2018 through activities to increase awareness, build capacity, and set standards to promote healthy lifestyles.  Learn more at www.nola.gov/health external link or by following Fit NOLA on Twitter: @FitNOLA.

About the Tulane Prevention Research Center

The mission of the Tulane Prevention Research Center (PRC) is to reduce or prevent overweight and obesity in the Greater New Orleans Area by addressing the physical and social environmental factors influencing physical activity and diet. The PRC’s mission is accomplished through participatory research; collaboration with community partners and policy makers; communication about environmental factors related to physical activity and diet with public health practitioners, policy makers and community partners; and training of public health professionals, paraprofessional and community members.

Recap of Market Umbrella’s Fruit and Vegetable Prescription Program

Original article by Market Umbrella from (April 2, 2015). Link to the original article here

*Since this article was released, the program has ended for the season. While running, it was extremely successful.

Market Umbrella Awarded Nearly $400,000 to Increase Access to Fresh Fruits and Vegetables for Low-Income New Orleanians

New USDA Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive grant program funds expanded Market Match SNAP incentive program at the four locations of the Crescent City Farmers Market and pilot program at Circle Food Store

NEW ORLEANS, LA, – Market Umbrella, the New Orleans-based 501(c)3 non-profit that operates the four locations of the Crescent City Farmers Market and serves as a regional mentor and national model for farmers markets, has been awarded $378,326 from the United States Department of Agriculture‘s (USDA) new Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI) grant program. This funding will allow Market Umbrella to offer its Market Match program, which matches SNAP purchases of up to $20 per visit to the Crescent City Farmers Market (CCFM), year-round, rather than seasonally. These matching funds may be used to purchase fruits and vegetables directly from local farmers who sell at the CCFM. Market Umbrella will also pilot a similar incentive program at Circle Food Store and work with owner Dwayne Boudreaux to increase the store‘s local produce offerings.

Market Umbrella Executive Director Kathryn Parker says: “We are thrilled to be selected for inclusion in the FINI program for the expansion of Market Match. We know that all residents in New Orleans love good local healthy food found at the Crescent City Farmers Market, but some lack the resources to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables. Expansion of Market Match through this FINI program will provide additional education and encouragement for people to utilize their SNAP benefits at the Crescent City Farmers Market, keeping more dollars in our local economy. We look forward to partnering with the Circle Foods store to create the Circle Match program which will encourage even more residents to increase the amount of fruits and vegetables they eat.”

A pioneer in healthy food incentives, Market Umbrella launched its Market Match program for SNAP shoppers at the CCFM in 2009, with support of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the Kresge Foundation. Since then, SNAP sales at the CCFM have increased 348%. Market Match incentivizes SNAP participants to spend their benefits with local food producers, maximizing the impact these federal dollars have on our local food economy. The goal of the new Market Match project is to increase access to fresh fruits and vegetables for low-income New Orleans residents through year-round expansion of SNAP incentives offered at CCFM locations and the initiation of a similar incentive program in a locally and minority-owned grocery store, Circle Food Store. Market Umbrella will convene a community-based project steering committee to advise on expanding its existing Market Match incentive program and transitioning it to one in which incentive funds may only be spent on fruits and vegetables.

Dwayne Boudreaux , owner of the Circle Food Store, says, “We are so excited to be a part of such a wonderful and necessary program. We have strived to offer quality produce and fresh foods to our community for decades, and we know that the FINI program will allow us to educate and serve even more people in our community who are in desperate need of quality fresh foods and produce.”

FINI is a joint effort between USDA‘s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) and USDA‘s Food and Nutrition Service, which oversees SNAP and has responsibility for evaluating the effectiveness of the incentive projects. FINI brings together stakeholders from distinct parts of the food system and fosters understanding of how they might improve the nutrition and health status of SNAP households.

All FINI projects must (1) have the support of a state SNAP agency; (2) increase the purchase of fruits and vegetables by SNAP participants by providing incentives at the point of purchase; (3) operate through authorized SNAP retailers; (4) agree to participate in the comprehensive FINI program evaluation; (5) ensure that the same terms and conditions apply to purchases made by both SNAP participants and non-participants; and (6) include effective and efficient technologies for benefit redemption systems that may be replicated in other states and communities. The FINI program is authorized and funded by the 2014 Farm Bill. For more information, visit www.usda.gov/farmbill. More information can be found on the NIFA website.

Market Umbrella, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, cultivates the field of public markets for public good. The organization utilizes its Crescent City Farmers Markets as platforms for innovation, learning and sharing with the growing field of public markets. More information at marketumbrella.org.

Second Harvest expands program to reach children in Bywater and Algiers

Original article by Jaquetta White at The New Orleans Advocate (July 18, 2015). Link to the original article here.

New Orleans children get free meals from Second Harvest, with 2 new locations this year

Danterry Brown and Derrick Watson made a pit stop Wednesday on their daily trip to the Alvar Branch Public Library, where they like to read “big, chapter books” like the ones in the “Harry Potter” series.

At a table just outside the library doors, the 10-year-olds picked up snacks and cold drinks to beat their midday munchies and the heat.

For the sixth year, the Second Harvest Food Bank of Greater New Orleans and Acadiana is providing meals to area children as part of the Summer Food Service Program.

The program is open to children who qualify for reduced-price meals from the National School Lunch Program and those who come from households that receive food stamps or other benefits.

Second Harvest is delivering breakfast, lunch and a snack to children at 37 schools, churches and community centers that host summer camps in Orleans Parish. The program also has 16 sites in Jefferson, St. Bernard, Plaquemines, Evangeline, Iberville, Iberia, Vermilion and Lafourche parishes.

The program provided about 200,000 meals last summer.

In an effort to reach more children, the nonprofit food bank has added two “open sites,” locations without a summer program, to its rotation this summer. Those meals are being handed out to children at the Alvar Library in Bywater and the Algiers Regional Library in Algiers, two neighborhoods where Second Harvest found there were “pockets of need,” spokeswoman Terri Kaupp said.

“We know that there’s a need outside of camp. There are kids whose parents can’t afford to send them to camp,” Kaupp said. “This helps us reach those kids as well.”

In Louisiana, nearly a quarter of the state’s 1.1 million children younger than 18 are at risk of hunger, according to U.S. Census Bureau data analyzed by Feeding America, a nonprofit network of food banks. Children who are at risk of hunger have limited or uncertain access to adequate food because of the economic and social conditions of their households.

“During the summer, we see the need go up at the food bank because families are having to provide breakfast, lunch and dinner,” Kaupp said. “During the school year, some meals are generally taken care of because of the free and reduced lunch program.”

Only a few children turned out Wednesday to pick up a lunch of pulled pork, macaroni and cheese, and carrots and peas at the Alvar location, where the program is offering lunch to children Monday through Thursday until Aug. 6.

Among them was Shaun Vincent, a rising fifth-grader at Arise Academy who is interning at the Alvar Library this summer and learned about the program from his co-workers. It saved Shaun, 10, from having to walk home to make a sandwich for lunch, though he eyed the meal’s applesauce with some trepidation.

New program to recognize healthy New Orleanians while promoting a culture of health

Original article by Fit NOLA on www.nola.gov (June 05, 2015). Link to the original article here.

Fit NOLA, Whole Foods Market and Humana Rock ‘N’ Roll New Orleans Launch Healthy Hero Program

NEW ORLEANS – Today, Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s Fit NOLA initiative and Whole Foods Market together launched Healthy Heroes – a program to celebrate community members leading healthy efforts across New Orleans. The Healthy Hero program will give New Orleans residents an opportunity to receive recognition for their work in creating a culture of health within the metro area. Fit NOLA and Whole Foods Market aim to improve health outcomes for residents by promoting the resources and opportunities to access physical activity and healthy nutritional avenues.

“Fit NOLA creates cross-sector partnerships that identify and assist residents with connections to healthy options,” said Charlotte Parent, director of the New Orleans Health Department. “With services and commitments from Whole Foods Market and the Humana Rock ‘n’ Roll New Orleans Marathon, the city can celebrate and recognize those that take action and help reach our goal of becoming one of the top ten fittest cities in the United States.”

Each month, residents are invited to nominate a Healthy Hero online before the designated deadline for a chance to be selected as that month’s sole winner. Nomination questions focus on the environment Healthy Heroes create for themselves and others. Healthy Heroes who are selected each month will receive recognition from the Fit NOLA partnership, a Whole Foods Market gift card paired with a healthy-eating tour of Whole Foods Market’s Broad Street location, and a complimentary entry into the Humana Rock ‘n’ Roll New Orleans marathon, half marathon or 10k races.

The first nomination deadline is Friday, June 19.

To learn more about the Healthy Hero program, please visit http://nola.gov/health-department/fit-nola/healthy-hero/

About Fit NOLA

Fit NOLA, created by Mayor Landrieu, is an effort of over 200 community partners focused on access and resources surrounding physical activity and healthy nutrition with backbone support from the City of New Orleans Health Department. Fit NOLA is working to make New Orleans a nationally regarded fit city by 2018 through activities to increase awareness, build capacity, and set standards to promote healthy lifestyles.  Learn more at fit.nola.gov or by following Fit NOLA on Twitter: @FitNOLA.

About Whole Foods Market®

Founded in 1980 in Austin, Texas, Whole Foods Market (wholefoodsmarket.com, NASDAQ: WFM), is the leading natural and organic food retailer. As America’s first national certified organic grocer, Whole Foods Market was named “America’s Healthiest Grocery Store” by Health magazine. The company’s motto, “Whole Foods, Whole People, Whole Planet”™ captures its mission to ensure customer satisfaction and health, Team Member excellence and happiness, enhanced shareholder value, community support and environmental improvement. Thanks to the company’s more than 88,000 team members, Whole Foods Market has been ranked as one of the “100 Best Companies to Work For” in America by FORTUNE magazine for 18 consecutive years. In fiscal year 2014, the company had sales of $14.2 billion and currently has more than 420 stores in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. For more company news and information, please visit media.wfm.com.

About Humana Rock ‘n’ Roll New Orleans Marathon & ½ Marathon

The 7th annual Humana Rock ‘n’ Roll New Orleans Marathon, ½ Marathon & 10K will take place on Sunday, February 28, 2016. This fast, flat course gives runners a first class tour of historic New Orleans, the sounds of live, local bands rocking every mile of the way, plus enthusiastic cheerleaders that keep participants energized. The event concludes with a huge finish line festival complete with headliner concert, food and drinks. A two-day Health & Fitness Expo kicks off race weekend at the New Orleans Morial Convention Center. The expo will have more than 60 vendors featuring the latest in running gear, nutrition and training tips. To register for the race or for more information, visit runrocknroll.com

Renaissance Project increases food access through technology

Original article by Sandy Carter on foodtank.com (November 28, 2014). Link to the original article here.

New iPhone App Strives to Increase Food Access in New Orleans

In the city famous for beignets, Po’boys, and gumbo, many residents of New Orleans, Louisiana do not have access to affordable, healthy food. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Access Research Atlas, large swaths of New Orleans are food deserts—these are neighborhoods that are typically more than a mile from a supermarket. Last month, however, New Orleans residents gained increased access to healthy, affordable food through a new iPhone application. In partnership with Top Box Foods and Aisle Won, the Renaissance Project launched the free NOLA Food Partnershipapp in order to connect residents to fresh produce and frozen groceries.

“In a place like New Orleans, no one should go hungry,” explains Greta Gladney, the founder of the Renaissance Project. Since 2001, the Renaissance Project, a community development non-profit, has strived to improve the quality of life for low-income communities of color, particularly by increasing access to food. In October, the Renaissance Project partnered with Top Box Foods, a non-profit that offers high-quality affordable food to residents of food deserts, and Aisle Won, who manages pilot cellular apps that connect individuals to food growers and producers.

The NOLA Food Partnership app allows residents of New Orleans to purchase food boxes from Top Box, at roughly half the cost of average grocery store prices. According to Top Box, volunteer support and low overhead costs allow them to maintain their reasonable prices.

Unlike food at a grocery store, app purchased food is only available once a month. All orders must be placed by the second Saturday of each month, so the food boxes can be compiled and ready for pick-up at one of the thirteen designated churches and community centers across the city. App users can pick from the seven boxes offered, which include items such as fresh or frozen fruit, vegetables, and meat. Most of the food is purchased from food producers and brokers who typically supply restaurants and catering companies in the area.

After ordering, customers have the option to purchase their groceries with cash, credit cards, or food stamps, including Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)/Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT). Allowing customers to pay with food stamps may be particularly relevant in Louisiana, where almost 20 percent of the population relies on SNAP to buy groceries, compared to the national average of 15 percent. Mike Kantor, co-chairman of the New Orleans Food Policy Advisory Committee, recentlyhighlighted the importance of encouraging residents to use food stamps to access innovative food programs, “when we talk about food deserts, we can’t just focus on location and geographic access. We have to talk about economic security, which means talking about programs the people going to shop at stores rely on in order to afford the produce that’s sold there.” As the new app gains users and supporters, paying with or without food stamps, it could begin to increase food security in regions of New Orleans.

Improving health outcomes for youth through Summer Employment Program

Original article by Sheila Stroup in The Times Picayune (June 6, 2015). Link to the original article here.

Renaissance Project’s Summer Youth Employment Program creates higher expectations in young people

Last year, when Dayette Hopkins heard about the Regrowing Community Summer Youth Employment Program, she decided to apply for it. Even though she was not quite 15, she was excited about the idea of going to work and making her own money.

“My dad and I sat down and talked about it,” she says. “He told me it would be a lot of responsibility, and I told him I wanted to do it, so we filled out the paperwork.”

Now Hopkins, who will be a junior at the International School of New Orleans, can’t wait to go back to work this week.

Her favorite part of her job last summer was working with elderly people at a senior center in the Lower 9th Ward.

“They really touched my heart,” she says. “I’m a really shy person, and I overcame my shyness. Now, they love me, and they want me to come back.”

Hopkins also liked getting a paycheck every two weeks.

“I bought everything I needed for school, and I even had a little left over to help my dad,” she says. “My father and I both think the program is great.”

The summer employment program is part of the Renaissance Project, the nonprofit organization Greta Gladney founded in 2001. Her aim was to improve the quality of life in her neighborhood, the Lower 9th Ward, by increasing access to healthy food and providing educational and economic opportunities.

As time passed, she expanded to include low-income communities of color throughout New Orleans. The Renaissance Project has been a Second Harvest member agency for several years and operates food pantries around the city.

For the second summer, it will nourish young people in another way. The Regrowing Community Summer Youth Employment Program, envisioned by Gladney and funded by a generous grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, enables the Renaissance Project to hire 60 young men and women, ages 14 to 20, for summer employment.

“We pay them a living wage of $10 an hour,” Gladney says. “My concern working with youth and with families was to give them higher expectations, expectations other than a minimum wage job.”

There had been other summer employment programs in the city where young people earned around $5 an hour, but she didn’t think that was enough.

“If we only paid them $5 an hour, then a minimum wage job would look really good to them,” she says. “To break the cycle of poverty, we have to raise expectations.”

Gladney knew the only way they could pay $10 an hour, though, was to get funds from somewhere. Besides paying the young people for working, she would need money to feed them lunch and help with transportation costs.

So she contacted the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

“To my surprise and delight, they gave me everything I asked for,” she says.

Last summer, the young people interned with such nonprofit organizations as Junebug Productions, Boys Town of New Orleans, Kids Rethink, BreakOUT! and the Lower 9th Ward Village.

“This year we’d like to get businesses involved, too,” Gladney says.

Several businesses have already agreed to host students, including Stella Jones Gallery, St. Roch Market and Hewitt & Washington Architects.

The program starts this week, and there are still a few slots available for summer interns and opportunities for local businesses and nonprofit groups to get involved. The students will work 25 hours a week for six weeks.

“For some last summer, that was a significant amount of income for their household,” Gladney says.

The program begins on Thursday, June 11, with a 2-day orientation, which will include a segment on fiscal literacy. Last summer, the students had a rude awakening when they received their first paychecks and saw that they were less than they expected. They didn’t know about deductions.

“The students from last year’s program helped us shape the program this year,” Gladney says.

Interns will learn how to be responsible citizens and will develop leadership skills. They’ll learn how to conduct themselves at job interviews and how to write a resume. They’ll learn the importance of being on time and how to work with other people.

“We’ll teach them how to conduct themselves in a business environment,” Gladney says.

Brandon Marcadel, 20, graduated from McDonogh 35 in May 2014 and was in the first group of interns last summer. He worked at Students at the Center, an independent nationally-recognized writing program operating out of McDonogh 35. He wrote essays, led discussions and mentored younger students. Because of the program he ended up changing his major at Xavier University during his freshman year.

“I decided I wanted to be an English teacher,” he says.

And because of the program, he also got his first car before he went off to Xavier.

“I made enough for the down-payment, and my mom is helping me pay for it,” he says. “My mom loved the program. She thought it was great that I spent the summer gaining more knowledge and getting a little money before college.”

This summer, he’s working at Stein Mart and looking forward to his sophomore year at Xavier.

For Ciera Steward, a senior at Lake Area New Tech Early College High School, her job last summer was memorable.

“I got to see new faces and do things I never did before,” she says. “I felt like I was in the business world.”

Steward, 18, was one of four interns who worked at the Renaissance Project office at 5234 North Claiborne Ave., and at the senior center on the first floor in the same building.

“One of the things we did was travel around to the other sites to take pictures and talk to the workers and write a blog about the program,” she says. “We got to work with people we’d never met before, and it helped me realize what the real world is like.”

Steward plans to go to nursing school after she graduates, and she’s looking forward to another summer working with the Youth Employment Program.

“I’m on dance team and volleyball team at school, so I’ll save the money I make for expenses and for my senior budget,” she says.

For Audrey Browder, administrative assistant at the Renaissance Project, the most remarkable thing about the Regrowing Community Summer Youth Employment Program was seeing how the teenagers changed over the summer.

“It was great to see them work together and learn to support each other,” she says. “It was exciting to watch them grow up.”

Threat of hunger looms over summer vacation for kids

Original article by Casey Quinlan at Think Progress (May 27, 2015). Link to the original article here.

Summer Vacation Means Millions Of Low-Income Kids Could Go Hungry

As school ends and summer vacation begins for K-12 students across the country, plenty of children will be excited to take a break from tests and homework and spend time with friends. But summer vacation often means something different for low-income children who relied on school for regular meals.

During the 2014 fiscal year, over 21.5 million children qualified for the free and reduced-price lunch program, but only 2.7 million children used the national summer food service program daily. A survey by No Kid Hungry, an organization that seeks to raise awareness about childhood hunger, released this month, showed 83 percent of educators worry that their students will not have enough to eat this summer and 75 percent say their students come to school hungry.

According to a 2013 report by Children’s HealthWatch, “Too Hungry to Learn: Food Insecurity and School Readiness,” food insecurity in early in a child’s life has long-term effects. Teenagers who had insufficient nutrition in infancy were more likely to have lower test scores on achievement tests, as well as more likely to skip a grade. The report also showed that food insecurity is tied to iron-deficiency anemia in young children, which hurts the development of basic motor skills and social skills.

Although programs such as Early Head Start are meant to counteract these problems, only 192,664 children were enrolled in the program in 2013. In the 2014 fiscal year, 927,275 children were enrolled in the regular Head Start program for children 3 years old and older.

What’s worse is that some of the programs designed to reach low-income kids may not be effective. For example, the national summer meals program, which was designed to serve low-income families missing sufficient nutrition in the summer, doesn’t reach a lot of families because 80 percent of children from low-income backgrounds spend their time at home in the summer, not at a community program, according to No Kid Hungry’s analysis.

Because federal law requires the food be eaten at the site, the organization worries that the program is also ineffective. Kids may struggle to get to sites where it’s offered due to severe weather that often shuts down sites in the summer and the fact that low-income families struggle to pay for transportation.

No Kid Hungry suggested a Meals on Wheels program for kids to make sure they get the nutrition they need, especially since a third of low-income kids live outside predominantly low-income communities, which is where the meal sites are often located.

The government is aware of some these limitations, which is why, in 2013, the U.S. Department of Agriculture gave guidance to regional directors of special nutrition programs that allows some flexibility by letting sponsors provide food by bus or other vehicles. That allows the meal service to still be supervised and for the kids to eat “on site” in the bus or near the drop-off location. The number of kids reached through mobile food programs is unknown, however.