Individuals and families are among our region’s most vulnerable populations that find themselves without enough food to put on the table on a daily basis.
Food pantries and programs like the Kelly Center for Hunger Relief and its Fresh Start program are having a direct impact on combating food insecurity.
The Kelly Center for Hunger Relief has helped provide nutritious food to the food insecure of El Paso County for 20 years.
The U.S Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates that 36 million, or one in nine, Americans were food insecure in 2018, including more than 11 million children. The USDA defines food insecurity as a lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life, that includes a lack of available financial resources for food at the household level.
According to FeedingAmerica.org, nearly 80,000 people in El Paso County suffer from food insecurity and about one out of every five children go hungry each day.
In 2019, the Kelly Center for Hunger Relief and the Paso del Norte Health Foundation had partnered to start a new pilot program, called Fresh Start, based on a mutual interest in addressing the root causes of food insecurity.
The Fresh Start program provides members a variety of resources, including not only food, but support, goal setting, job counseling, nutrition and health classes, computer skills, financial literacy, fitness classes programs like Zumba and more. Click here to see video.
The idea is that the long-term solution to food insecurity lies not just in feeding those in need, but helping people overcome the obstacles — including education, employment and housing — that cause food insecurity.
I’m happy to report that that pilot program, which was funded through a grant by the Health Foundation’s Healthy Eating Active Living Initiative, had such an impact that it is now an ongoing program, which has already connected hundreds of members with resources to address their food insecurity.
Fresh Start director Perla Chaparro says that while food is a basic need, the goal of the program is to help guide clients and reduce barriers such as unemployment, access to healthcare, education and others that affect people suffering from food insecurity.
“We want to help them develop long-term skills, and guide them, focusing on their motivation and their strengths,” said Chaparro.
The program itself is modeled after the successful More Than Food program, created by Dr. Katie Martin from the University of Connecticut in 2009. The More Than Food model provides a more fundamental approach to the problem of food insecurity by addressing its roots, according to Chaparro, and it’s the first program of its kind in the Paso del Norte region.
The pilot program has grown into a full-fledged one that has served as many as 80 members at a time. Members stay in the program until they complete the goals they set up with a Fresh Start counselor at the onset or for up to nine months.
Members are now sharing their own stories with the El Paso community in a series of videos created by the Fresh Start program which can be found on its YouTube page, Fresh Start Program at Kelly.
I encourage the community to watch some of these testimonials and take a look at the amazing outcomes that are possible when we address food insecurity at its roots.
The Paso del Norte Health Foundation’s Healthy Eating Active Living Initiative (HEAL) works with a number of organizations to make healthy eating and active living the easy choice for all people in the region.
For more information about the HEAL Initiative, click here.
Author: Jana Renner – Paso del Norte Health Foundation