A healthy 2017 for everyone in Sonoma County

Local agencies work to provide nutrition and physical education classes for those who otherwise might not be able to afford them.|

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.

“We may want to eat very healthy, but imagine being someone who lives near Sebastopol Road,” he said, referring to the Roseland street famous for taco trucks. “You have to walk by four taco trucks, 13 fast food places, you have to walk past the guy who sells candy, the guy who sells ice cream, and not be tempted to eat that. We’re just looking to tilt the balance somewhat, so it’s less testing your willpower and more just a natural thing you do.”

A program with a similar focus has been underway at the Sonoma County Library since October.

The Healthy Living at Your Library classes provide nutrition and physical education programming for people who otherwise might not be able to afford them.

“We’re not trying to compete with gyms, we’re trying to level the playing field,” said the library’s Jaime Anderson, who is heading up the program. “So if you have a family who couldn’t afford to take a cooking class or join the YMCA, this is an opportunity for people like that, who just can’t quite financially swing it.”

The program was funded through a $30,000 federal grant, and classes will run through May.

“We are really trying to educate, especially low-income households, that you can prepare nutritional meals at home in a very affordable way through fresh fruits and vegetables, beans, seeds and nuts,” Anderson said. “These kinds of things are affordable at the stores and we do really want to reach that segment of the population and make sure that they know they don’t have to just run out and grab McDonald’s on the way home from work. They can throw together a quick and simple meal at home with fresh ingredients.”

Anderson is most excited about an upcoming cooking class series put on by Jill Nussinow, a Santa Rosa educator, cookbook author and proprietor of the popular blog “The Veggie Queen.”

“People who would come to my cooking classes, if I was teaching them right now, they’d be paying $45 minimum,” Nussinow said. “This is an opportunity for people who might not be able to afford the classes, but really want to learn the information. I like to teach people that it doesn’t have to be expensive to eat really good, tasty food. And I think that’s the key.”

You can reach Staff Writer Christi Warren at 707-521-5205 or christi.warren@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @SeaWarren.

UPDATED: Please read and follow our commenting policy:

  • This is a family newspaper, please use a kind and respectful tone.
  • No profanity, hate speech or personal attacks. No off-topic remarks.
  • No disinformation about current events.
  • We will remove any comments — or commenters — that do not follow this commenting policy.