From left, Deborah Herron, Walmart's director of public affairs; Oregon State Senator Jackie Winters, PSU's Betty Izumi and Dawn Barberis of Mt. Hood Community College Head Start.
A Portland State-led program to get pre-schoolers hooked on eating healthy, locally grown foods received a $98,608 grant this week from Walmart Foundation that will allow it to significantly expand its reach to low-income children and families.
The Harvest for Healthy Kids research program pairs PSU with Mt. Hood Community College Head Start and Early Head Start programs in an effort funded by Kaiser Permanente Northwest’s Healthy Food Access Initiative, Meyer Memorial Trust and now the Walmart Foundation.
Harvest for Healthy Kids will expand its healthy foods program to more than 2,000 low-income children and families in Multnomah County through the MHCC Head Start and Early Head Start preschool education programs.
Against the backdrop of concerns about a lack of access to healthy foods and childhood obesity, the Harvest for Healthy Kids aims to intervene early, assisting low-income children and their families in establishing healthier eating habits. Effectively addressing childhood obesity requires a comprehensive strategy. Harvest for Healthy Kids can be one component of a broader approach to promote healthy eating habits.
The program employs a three-pronged approach. Locally grown fruits and vegetables are served in the classroom, paired with education programs designed to teach students about the availability and health benefits of fresh, local foods. Take-home materials provide information designed to get families in on the action.
"This additional funding will allow us to scale up our outreach to more children and their families,” said Betty Izumi, an assistant professor in PSU’s School of Community Health and co-director of Harvest for Healthy Kids. “We’ve been working in Head Start classrooms since 2010 and we’ve seen that this approach can make a difference.”
Izumi partners with Dawn Barberis, the associate director of administrative services at MHCC Head Start who also runs the foodservice program. Barberis has worked with Head Start kitchen staff to integrate new fresh foods into the menu.
“We’ve extended the Farm-to-School concept into early education and we’ve seen the results,” Izumi said. “If kids have access to fresh, well-prepared fruits and vegetables they will eat them.”