Expanding Access to Healthy Food

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Kaiser Permanente grants totaling $1.2 million will help hungry families weather the holiday season.

Low-income residents in Fresno, Santa Cruz, Stanislaus, and San Joaquin counties will have more opportunities to buy fresh fruits and vegetables at farmers markets, thanks to a grant from Kaiser Permanente Northern California.

The $95,000 grant to the Ecology Center of Berkeley is part of a $1.2 million package of grants that reflect Kaiser Permanente’s ongoing commitment to improve community health and support healthy eating and exercise. The grants will support a range of organizations and programs that will increase access to healthy food, provide nutrition education, and develop healthy food policies that will benefit an estimated 14.5 million people.

Ten organizations will receive the grants, including nine community-based nonprofits in Northern California. Their work will focus on meeting the immediate needs of hungry families through food banks, farmers markets, and food subsidy programs such as CalFresh (formerly known as Food Stamps), as well as making longer term changes in public policy. One grant will support the development of “food as medicine” programs in health care organizations serving low-income people.

“A lack of access to healthy, affordable food is directly associated with poor physical and mental health outcomes, including chronic illnesses such as high blood pressure and diabetes,” said Yvette Radford, vice president, Kaiser Permanente Northern California External and Community Affairs. “These investments are part of our core belief that all people deserve a chance to fulfill their total health — mind, body, and spirit.”

Improving the Health of Those Most in Need

The grant to the Ecology Center will enable the nonprofit to increase the number of farmers markets that are equipped with technology to accept the CalFresh food subsidy program in the Central Valley and Santa Cruz. It will also increase the number of markets in those areas that offer the Market Match program.

Market Match matches a customer’s CalFresh dollars (usually up to $10) at farmers markets, allowing low-income shoppers to buy more fruits and vegetables from small, independent farmers.

Ecology Center Executive Director Martin Bourque said the Central Coast and Central Valley have high rates of obesity among all age groups and alarming rates of high blood pressure, heart disease, and childhood and adult diabetes.

“This grant will improve the health of Californians who are most in need by increasing the number of low-income shoppers who can buy enough healthy food. It will also help to support independent farmers who are leading the way to a healthy, sustainable, and just food system,” he said.

More Than a Million Struggle to Afford Food

California produces nearly half of the nation’s fruits and vegetables, but with 8 million of the state’s residents living in poverty, food insecurity is a serious issue. In Northern California alone, there are 1.1 million households where an adult struggles to afford enough food, with the highest rates of food insecurity ranging from 28 percent of residents in Solano County to 52 percent in Fresno County.

“Fresh fruits and vegetables are often difficult for low-income families to afford,” said Sue Sigler, executive director of the California Association of Food Banks. “With help from Kaiser Permanente, California food banks are distributing over 150 million pounds of surplus fresh produce every year to people in need.”

Radford added that Kaiser Permanente has been investing in programs to expand access to healthy food for more than a decade.

“We recognize that communities can thrive only if all people have an equal chance at having good health,” she said.

Read more about the grants and the organizations that are receiving support at the KP Share website.

Discussion1 Comment

  1. I live in Solano County and had no idea that 28% of our residents struggle to afford food! Am proud of KP for this important grant – maybe next year KP will target Solano County.

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