United Way
of Massachusetts Bay
and Merrimack Valley

March 21, 2017

Planting the seeds of a healthy community

A spotlight on some innovative North Shore programs that are making nutrition and healthy living a priority for families in need.

The connection between financial health and physical health is not surprising, especially when you consider the costs of things like healthy foods, regular physical activity, and quality medical care.  For many families with a very limited budget, worrying about the nutrition factor of their meal is not a luxury they can afford.

So how do you make healthy living more accessible to everyone? Our North Shore partners are leading the way when it comes to addressing this issue.  Here’s how they’re doing it.

KNOWLEDGE IS POWER

When your time, budget, and food choices are limited, processed and unhealthy foods quickly become the easy answer.  But armed with a little knowledge and practice, there are simple ways to create healthier meals without breaking the budget.

The “Cooking Matters” program provides that knowledge through classes offered at United Way partner agencies like Beverly Children’s Learning Center, coaching families and children on how to make healthier meals within their allotted budget.

Still, the best cooking classes in the world won’t help you if you can’t afford to buy the ingredients.

That’s why United Way also partners with local organizations that are focused on increasing access to healthy food. The Beverly Farmers Market, for example, recently implemented SNAP incentives to help people purchase produce at their market. Backyard Growers in Gloucester works with low-income families to help them learn to plant, harvest and use their own garden produce.  And The Food Project grows and distributes fresh, healthy food products to 10,000 North Shore residents through its network of local food pantries.

WOMEN IN ACTION

United Way’s local North Shore volunteer group Women in Action (WIA) has made this work their mission, supporting programs like these all over the North Shore through fundraising and volunteerism.

“As a parent myself, I see every day the impact that food and physical activity have on my own children. When they are well-fed with healthy food and have time to move their bodies during the day, they are happier, healthier, more focused and better behaved,” said WIA co-chair Michelle Langille.

Last year, WIA invested $53,000 to support many of the programs listed above, in addition to others that promote physical activity for children. Their efforts have:

  • Provided 2,175 children and families with healthy food
  • Engaged 287 families in nutrition education
  • Created fun opportunities for 250 children to access physical activity

This spring at WIA’s annual Seeding A Cause event hosted in partnership with The Food Project, volunteers will help plant over 11,000 seeds that will grow into healthy crops to be distributed to families in need through The Food Project’s network of food pantries and community organizations.

“It has been wonderful to witness the success stories that come out of WIA’s efforts,” said Michelle Langille. “Whether it’s learning that the seeds planted during Seeding A Cause will grow to feed local children and families, or finding out that after attending a WIA-sponsored Cooking Matters class, a child prepared a full, healthy dinner for himself and his hard working single mother, I am inspired by the direct impact of the work in our community.”

GET INVOLVED

There are several opportunities to get your hands dirty and volunteer with some of these programs this spring.

  • Sign up for the Seeding A Cause event to be held on April 13th
  • Volunteer at Backyard Growers in their greenhouse on April 12th
  • Help sell seedlings at Backyard Growers on April 24th