There are some women in this community who struggle to put food on the table. They are often single moms trying to make it on $8.00 an hour and still feed their families. And in such a tight economy, dollar menus at fast food joints and a couple of boxes of processed foods go a long way.
But none of that food is healthy. For the women and their children, the Junior League of Eastern Fairfield County (JLEFC) wanted to do something about it. So for 25 students at the Mercy Learning Center in Bridgeport, a non-profit organization that focuses on women’s literacy, they will have the chance to learn how to be healthy.
“This year, the JLEFC’s community outreach programs focus on improving health, nutrition and literacy for women and children,” said Susan Zaveruha, President of the JLEFC, in a recent press release. “We are so pleased to collaborate with such outstanding community organizations in this pilot program and look forward to giving other students at Mercy Learning Center a similar opportunity to access and learn the benefits of fresh, local produce.”
The JLEFC has teamed up with Michel Nischan, President and CEO of the Wholesome Wave Foundation and Executive Chef at famed Westport restaurant the Dressing Room, along with the help of Analiese Paik, founder of the Fairfield Green Food Guide, and Heather Harrington, an assistant extension instructor in the Department of Allied Health Sciences at the University of Connecticut. With this “Dream Team” of foodies, the Junior League hopes to make a difference with their pilot program, “Healthy Eating.”
“Through vegetable stands in various Bridgeport neighborhoods, Wholesome Wave strives to provide the city’s residents with affordable, healthy and convenient alternatives to conventional food shopping, while encouraging easy preparation of healthy, farm fresh foods at home,” said Nischan. “Mercy Learning Center’s students live and work in the heart of a historically excluded community but through the Junior League’s new program, we hope to positively impact their families’ health and wellness and help prevent a deepening health crisis.”
This is part of an initiative to promote healthy eating to lower income families. Buying locally grown, sustainable foods at the farm stand, these women will have the opportunity to have fresh and affordable produce.
There will be a two-phase process to the program. A field trip to the Marina Village Farmers’ Market, located in the South End of Bridgeport and a project of Wholesome Wave Foundation and the Healthy Bridgeport Alliance, will be followed by a tutorial by Heather Harrington on October 8th from 10:30am-12:00pm. Harrington will teach the students about nutrition and how to effectively use their allotted $20 to buy fresh produce.
In November, Analiese Paik will do a hands-on demonstration cooking with fresh foods. She will focus on ways to use nutritious alternatives for commonly used but heavily processed ingredients.
“When the Junior League presented an opportunity to educate the Mercy Learning Center students about healthier meal options, I immediately thought of Wholesome Wave’s Park City Harvest farm stands as a way to bring local, affordable produce to these women,” said Analiese Paik, founder, Fairfield Green Food Guide. “This program represents local to its core: local community organizations using local resources to help local residents, and I am excited to be a part of it.”
On the learning center’s web site, one student’s story is representative of the kind of struggles many of these women experience on a daily basis. One woman gets up at the crack of dawn every morning to deliver papers before she gets her kids off to school and goes to work. If she is late, her pays gets docked. If there are complaints about the delivery, her pay is docked. What little is left doesn’t allow for much more than a box of Kraft Macaroni & Cheese or some Hamburger Helper.
“The trend towards buying and eating processed food is shifting towards eating fresh and local but this is generally not an easy feat to accomplish for low-income families,” said Paik.
The learning center’s motto is “Educate a woman, Educate a family.” If these women can learn how to shop better and eat better, then so will their children.
“Trying to eat healthy within a very strict budget is a daunting task for anyone. But for our students at Mercy Learning Center, this concept is an even bigger challenge,” said Sharon Sanford, a Student Enrichment Coordinator at the Mercy Learning Center. “The Junior League’s initiative empowers our women to take steps to provide more nutritious meals for themselves and their families.”
For more information about this program or to volunteer to help, contact The Mercy Learning Center at 203-334-6699 or e-mail them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo courtesy of the Mercy Learning Center.