The Connecticut Food Bank GROW! Up With Good Nutrition program provides highly nutritious food as well as healthy eating and financial literacy workshops for low-income households with
children enrolled in early childhood, pre-school daycare, Head Start programs and elementary schools.
This month, we’re checking in with our GROW! (Grocery on Wheels) coordinator, Huwerl Thornton, about this past school year.
“One of the newest things about GROW! is we’ve branched out and no longer work exclusively at schools. We’ve started partnering with local community organizations like All Our Kin and The Maxx,” Huwerl said. “It gives us a wider reach in terms of our audience.”
Program goals include providing nutritious food staples, introducing new foods, building community and supporting lifestyle changes. Parents complete the program with more information to help them eat well, save money and stay healthy and having built a network of other parents with whom to share recipes and organize playdates. Households also save an average of $147.56 each time they visit the GROW! truck, and an average of $1,770.67 per six-month program cycle.
Huwerl sees proof that participants are learning. He recently worked with the parent of a child with diabetes who reported that since she’s been attending the GROW! sessions, her child’s insulin levels have been more balanced. One participant told Huwerl he’d never tried cabbage before the program, and that now he loves it, while another told us that “as a result of the GROW! truck, I have lost 42 pounds and my husband has lost 26 pounds. We could not afford such wonderful produce and are so thankful.”
Huwerl works hard to ensure the presentations are engaging and entertaining, but his favorite part of the job is the food distribution itself: “I love hearing participants squeal with delight, ‘You have plantains?! You have lemons?! Is that cilantro?!’ You get that direct interaction with people and to see the direct fruits of your labors.”
He also loves to see kids helping their parents shop. “We want kids to be a part of the process. Studies show that when kids help shop, they have the sense of ownership, that they picked it, and are more likely to try new things – it helps create a healthy relationship with food,” Huwerl said. “And that’s where I’m hoping we’re making some changes: don’t run to junk food when you’re stressed. Maybe take a walk, dance like a lunatic, do jumping jacks, or play an interactive video game. I’ve learned a lot from these workshops, too. We’re trying to teach our parents how to be food role models for their kids.”
This fall, Huwerl will be working to bring the GROW! program to youth at Stratford High School. Stay tuned!