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Mission Nutrition: Nonprofits Provide Healthful Foods

Fresh vegetables from Whitelock Community Farm at Linden Market
Fresh vegetables from Whitelock Community Farm at Linden Market - Steve Ruark
When she was pregnant four years ago, social worker Jennifer Schugam developed gestational diabetes and received an intensive education to learn how to eat properly to manage her condition.
 
“It’s overwhelming how complicated [diabetes] is to manage,” she says. And so she got to thinking: If it was tough for her, how much more impossible must it be for diabetics living on a fixed income?
 
“We’re talking about people who are living on $650 to $900 a month,” Schugam says. “They often don’t live near a grocery store and so they’ll go shopping once a month, and stock up on cans of high sodium food, mac and cheese, and white bread. Nothing fresh or perishable. Plus, people run out of food by the end of the month. And for a diabetic, that is so bad.”
 
And so Feeding the People was born. In partnership with Moveable Feast, which preps and delivers the food, low-income diabetics can receive three nutritious meals in their homes every day for as little as $1 per meal.
 
Of course, low-income diabetics aren’t the only Baltimoreans who lack access to healthy and affordable food.
 
According to a report by the Bloomberg School of Public Health, nearly one in four school-aged children in Baltimore live in a food desert — an area where nutritious food choices are limited, and almost one-third of city households lacked access to enough nutritious food to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
 
The consequences are profound, resulting in significant health disparities among different neighborhoods and diseases that disproportionately affect the poor. Several Baltimore nonprofits are trying to change that. The Healthy Stores project aims to promote the consumption of healthful foods in low-income neighborhoods at recreation centers and other places where kids gather. At the Family League of Baltimore City, programs such as Snack and Supper feed kids after school.
 
And Shugam's Feeding the People has served more than 8,000 home-delivered meals since 2008. It also just hired a certified diabetic educator on staff who can provide free in-home education.
 
Schugam hopes to keep on growing. “This disease [diabetes] often affects minorities and the poor,” she says. “I see it as a social justice issue.”
 
There is a 20-year difference in life expectancy between some neighborhoods in the city, and unhealthy diet contributes to many of the top causes of death and disease in this city like cardiovascular disease, cancer, and diabetes. That’s according to Dr. Kimberly Gudzone, an assistant professor of medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine who directed a recent pilot program for the Healthy Stores project.
 
Launched this summer, the project focused on creating a partnership between two corner stores and nearby urban farms, Linden Food Market with Whitelock Community Farm in Reservoir Hill and Lake Clifton’s Real Food Farm with Da Kao Market in Belair Edison.
 
Corner stores play a key role in low-income neighborhoods in Baltimore, says Joel Gittelsohn, professor at the Center for Human Nutrition in the Department of International Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
 
“If you ask children in these areas what they do after school, most stop at a corner store, sometimes more than one, to pick up something to eat or drink— usually a high sugar, high-fat processed food or beverage. “
 
Gittelsohn is currently the lead investigator on two of the Healthy Stores’ initiatives. The B’More Healthy: Retail Rewards program, launching in January, will work with 24 stores and three wholesalers in low-income areas to increase the availability of fresh, healthful and affordable foods.
 
The B’More Healthy: Communities for Kids program concentrates on improvingthe  availability of healthy foods in corner stores, recreation centers and other places that kids congregate.
 
The Family League uses a similar approach to providing snacks to kids with healthful snacks and supper. Last summer, it served 107,000 suppers, says Melissa Moore, who supervises the Family League’s Snacks and Supper program. Next year, it wants to boost its outreach and marketing to more than double the number and serve 250,000.
 
But it’s not just about quantity: quality is important as well. “We ask our vendors to provide as much fresh food as possible.” Moore says. “We are trying to exceed USDA guidelines.”
 
The just-launched Shopping Matters program, funded in part by a grant from Share Our Strength and implemented by the Family League, focuses on the educational component of healthful eating, giving families the tools they need to shop for healthy, affordable foods through tours of participating neighborhood grocery stores.
 
The Partnership to End Childhood Hunger in Maryland, an umbrella group of which Family League and Share Our Strength are members, expects to give tours to more than 700 people, says Katherine Klosek, the partnership’s coordinator.
 
“Education about healthy eating is critical in improving the health and economic well being of our city.”

Tracey "Trix" Middlekauff is a freelance writer, editor and food photographer. Her work has appeared in Reader's Digest International, Urbanite, and Epicurious.com. She writes the food and travel blog TastyTrix.com and is the recipe columnist for Style magazine.

Linden Market photographs by STEVE RUARK

Feed the People photograph by TIM PRENDERGAST

Click on each photograph to see the captions. 

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