(July 28, 2017) Catherine Read talks with Terri Siggins, Project Coordinator for the Fairfax Food Council, and Christina Garris, Chair of the Fairfax Food Council and the Programs Director for Britepaths, a local non-profit that is one of the member organizations.
In the first segment, Terri Siggins outlines how the Fairfax Food Council came about as a result of a comprehensive strategic planning process undertaken by the Fairfax County Health Department in 2008. That process focused on identifying health needs in the county and in 2013 the Partnership for Healthier Fairfax developed CHIP – Community Health Improvement Plan. CHIP identified healthy eating as a key component of that plan and out of that process the Fairfax Food Council was born.
In the Spring of 2015 the Fairfax Food Council initiated a Community Food Assessment focusing on three communities in the county: Mount Vernon, Bailey’s Crossroads and the Reston/Herndon area. These are considered “high needs” communities. The assessment provided the guiding principles for the Fairfax Food Council and helped to identify “pockets of need” that exist within larger communities.
The Food4Thought program that provides food to students on weekends was developed out of an identified need at the Marshall Road Elementary School in Vienna, VA. Students eligible for free and reduced school lunches often did not have access to food over the weekend. The school’s principal, social worker and PTA worked with Britepaths to collect, coordinate and distribute food to those students in a way that maintained their privacy and dignity. The Food4Thought program continues to expand to other area elementary schools with each new school year. It’s an example of the collaborative nature of meeting identified needs and adapting to specific circumstances by school.
One of the initiatives of the Fairfax Food Council is to create partnerships and collaboration among government agencies, non-profits, faith communities, businesses, schools and individual community members. Currently the council is funded by a grant from the Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth and is housed within the Fairfax County Health Department. That grant carries them through July of 2018 at which time they will continue to look for other sources of funding to help expand their programs and bring on staff members.
The Fairfax Food Council has three work groups: Food Access, Urban Agriculture and Food Literacy. The Food Literacy project has developed templates for area food pantries to use in educating those they serve about nutrition and healthy eating. The Capital Area Food Bank is a member of the council and recently changed their policies to exclude donations of junk food and candy to their pantries. One of the templates they have developed is a guide for food pantries to use with donors in helping to guide their donations toward healthier items and “most requested” needs.
Christina Garris talks about the pivot toward grocery gift cards that Britepaths made several years ago and the benefit to families who are also in their financial literacy classes to learn budgeting. The Our Daily Veggies vouchers developed in collaboration with area farmer’s markets are also part of a larger program of Healthy Eating Workshops that focus on healthier meal preparation. With a grant from the USDA, the Fairfax Food Council has launched a SNAP Matching Program that allows SNAP recipients to buy $10 worth of produce at a participating farmer’s market for only $5. Here in Northern Virginia food access is a greater problem than food deserts which makes fresh foods more difficult to obtain or more expensive if purchased through convenience stores.
In addition to the collaborative partnerships the Fairfax Food Council is pulling together, they invite individual members of the community to participate in any or all of their working groups. Monthly meetings are held at the Kelly Square Health Department Offices and the schedule is posted online. A focus on the social determinants of health outcomes is entering the lexicon of how we talk about healthy communities and the wellness of individuals within those communities. The Fairfax Food Council will continue to innovate, educate and create the tools necessary to help ensure healthy communities here in Fairfax County. You can also follow them on Facebook.