Recreation and Community Services Department Receives $80,000 Grant to Develop Community Nutrition Hub in Parks and Recreation

Recreation and Community Services Department Receives $80,000 Grant to Develop Community Nutrition Hub in Parks and Recreation
Posted on 05/10/2021
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The West Allis-West Milwaukee Recreation and Community Services Department , in partnership with the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA), has received an $80,000 grant to develop a community nutrition hub to expand access to healthy foods through park and recreation programs and services. The gift is part of a $2.5 million grant NRPA received from the Walmart Foundation to build capacity in park and recreation agencies across the country to serve as intentional community nutrition hubs that improve health outcomes for community members.

WAWM Recreation and Community Service Department’s grant will help increase access to healthy foods, provide connections to social services, and increase health literacy by providing WA Farmers Market produce delivery services to WIC participants, providing a Mini Marketers program for youth to learn about the benefits of a local Farmer’s Market and empower them to make their own produce buying decisions, and providing a weekly sit down family meal coupled with nutrition education activities that can be implemented at home. 

Local park and recreation agencies are community health and wellness hubs. For decades, parks and recreation has been one of the largest providers of healthy meals to children in low-income communities, working through USDA child nutrition programs, to address hunger, provide nutrition education, and keep youth safe and engaged during out-of-school times. Building upon this strong foundation and the existing strengths of local park and recreation agencies, NRPA seeks to expand the role and capacity of local parks and recreation to improve food access across diverse communities and generations by piloting and evaluating three strategies:

  1. Increase access to healthy foods in low income areas through federally funded nutrition programs;

  2. Implement diverse models as well as analyze and share best practices for parks and recreation to serve as nutrition hubs, including screening for food insecurity, providing SNAP/WIC enrollment and retention assistance, establishing referral systems, hosting farmers markets and accepting benefits, and offering intergenerational health literacy and meal programs; and

  3. Provide evidence-based nutrition literacy resources that will reduce food insecurity and create behavior change, including increased consumption and preparation of fruits and vegetables and increased confidence in healthy decision-making.

In the United States, 1 in 6 children and older adults experience the daily struggle of food insecurity. These families are further challenged by unfair policies and systems that result in socio-economic disparities and limit access to transportation, quality education, and safe and healthy environments, which can decrease life expectancy by up to 30 years. 

Food access strategies, including federally funded programs like USDA child nutrition programs and SNAP/WIC benefit programs must meet community members where they are. As trusted and accessible institutions, local park and recreation agencies play a critical role by serving as community gathering places that provide access to healthy foods and essential nutrition supports that reduce food insecurity, strengthen healthy decision making and improve health outcomes. In addition to providing healthy meals, park and recreation professionals will be piloting a number of different food access strategies including conducting food insecurity screenings, providing SNAP and WIC benefit enrollment and retention assistance, accepting SNAP/WIC and the Senior Farmers Market Promotion Program benefits at farmers markets, establishing referral systems with healthcare providers, and offering health literacy programming.

“Park and recreation agencies serve critical roles as community nutrition hubs, connecting vulnerable populations to the health and wellness services they need,” says Kellie May, NRPA vice president of programs and partnerships. “NRPA thanks the Walmart Foundation for its support of local park and recreation professionals who are working every day to increase access to healthy foods and fostering long-lasting healthy habits across the country.”

“We are extremely grateful for this opportunity.  We are excited to be partnering with the West Allis Health Department and the West Allis Farmers Market, to bring these programs collaboratively to our community.  By combining our efforts and talents, we are collectively making strides to further support our community members and strengthen our services to better meet our community members where they are.” stated Shelly Strasser, Director of Recreation and Community Services.