Two Sonoma County groups are redoubling efforts in 2017 to provide nutritional guidance for low-income families.
Through grants, Santa Rosa’s Center for Well-Being and the Sonoma County Library are aiming to make 2017 a healthier year for families who otherwise wouldn’t have access to the programming the groups offer such as nutrition, cooking and physical education classes.
The Center for Well-Being is narrowing its focus to reach the four parts of the county deemed most in need of nutritional services based on the 2014 Portrait of Sonoma, a comprehensive look at disparities in the county and the relationship among income, education and health outcomes.
The Center chose Boyes Hot Springs, the B section of Rohnert Park, Santa Rosa’s West End and Roseland because of health inequities, unmet needs and the fact that a majority of residents are eligible for CalFresh, known federally as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.
According to the county, 32,490 Sonoma County residents were on CalFresh in October, while about 70,000 more residents were eligible.
Working with “Promotores de Salud,” community-based lay health and wellness promoters and educators who serve as a cultural bridge to communities, the group organizes community talks and stations at local farmers markets to show low-income residents that while it might seem cheaper and easier to grab a fast-food meal for dinner, eating healthy doesn’t have to be expensive or difficult.
From Oct. 1, 2015 to Sept. 30, 2016, the Center hosted 232 community presentations for 5,168 people.
“We talk about all sorts of things,” said Martin Rivarola, the Center’s community engagement manager. “How you can make healthy meals on a budget, trying to work against the conception that healthy food is only for rich people.”
The Center is able to do this kind of programming thanks to a $150,000 federal SNAP-Education grant.
With that, the Center’s 25 promotores also work to change the way neighborhood grocery stores think about food, too.
“We work with those stores for them to increase the fruits and vegetables, so that healthy options are front and center,” Rivarola said. “We’re trying to work with them so that when you walk into a store, the first thing that you see are not chips and soda, but fruits and veggies. Something that you do see in Whole Foods, so why should it be any different? We are all human beings.”
Just this fall, 15 stores around the county were acknowledged by the Center for their support and participation in the Healthy Retail Program.
But change can be an uphill battle.
Rivarola used Coca-Cola as an example. For a person who grew up impoverished in Mexico, and for whom Coke came to signify a special treat, it means so much to proudly bring home a 2-liter bottle for your family to enjoy at the dinner table.
“It signifies passage from poverty to middle class, and so when I talk to someone about how Coke has empty calories, and no nutrients, it only adds to our weight problem in children, it adds to cavities, and everything else, I need to be very careful how I say that,” he said. “ It could very well be that when the other person hears that, they hear they need to go back to water. And for them going back to water may be going back to poverty.