Healthy Food Access in Colorado: How Sun Valley Kitchen is Helping (and You Can, Too)
posted by: Amber Johnson
Your kids are famished after a long day of school so you slice an apple and chop some cucumbers, carrots and broccoli (with some Ranch dressing for dipping, of course!) Your kitchen is wafting with the aroma of chicken and root vegetables cooking in your Crockpot. It is a visual as well as a satisfying feast.
But how many of us take having access to healthy food for granted?
Imagine what it would be like if you had did not have a car and had to rely on public transportation or walked to the nearest grocery store. Nearly 300,000 Colorado households are low income and have limited access to grocery stores within close proximity. Nationally, low-income zip codes have 30 percent more convenience stores, which tend to lack healthy items and 23.5 million people cannot access a supermarket within one mile of their home.
The statistics are sobering enough but what it is it like to be a mom who lives with this struggle?
Cassy is a Denver mom of four who lives in Sun Valley, one of Central Denver’s poorest neighborhoods. She remembers when she was young that they wouldn’t have any food in their house except a loaf of bread and sugar. They’d make toast as their meals. Sometime they were just living off water.
Sun Valley Kitchen is striving to change this. We sat down with founder Glenn Harper and Cassy to ask about healthy food access and what is being done to help our fellow Coloradoans obtain fresh fruits and vegetables at an affordable price.
Tell us about the lack of access to healthy food in Sun Valley
Sun Valley is a food desert. There are no grocery stores nearby. Many families in Sun Valley do not have vehicles so rely on public transportation or walking which makes it even more challenging to have access to food. There used to be a Family Dollar in the neighborhood but it was recently torn down due to the expansion of Federal Boulevard. All that is left in the neighborhood is 7-Eleven.
Why is it important for people to know more about it?
Families who do not have obstacles in obtaining fresh food don’t know what it’s like to not be able to provide their children a healthy diet. Not having access to fresh fruits and vegetables along with other healthy food items means many times relying on prepackaged unhealthy options. This impacts a child’s ability to thrive, grow and learn. It can also create trauma in a child’s life.
What is the Sun Valley Kitchen?
The Sun Valley Kitchen serves as a neighborhood community center. We facilitate a bi-weekly No Cost Grocery Program (food pantry) in partnership with the Denver Food Rescue. Food from grocery stores that would otherwise be disposed of is brought to our location and then immediately made available to residents. We receive an abundant amount of fresh fruits and vegetables along with eggs, milk, bread and prepared items. We also partner with other food rescue organizations and receive generous donations from food-related businesses.
We prepare dinner for neighborhood youth Monday through Friday, typically serving 35-40 meals each evening. We also offer cooking classes for neighborhood children and youth.
Cassy says, “My family is eating healthier and trying new vegetables. I’ve learned how to cook an artichoke and how to make butter out of cream. Recently I replaced rice with purple cauliflower.”
How can improving access to healthy food make an impact in a neighborhood?
Having access to healthy food reduces stress in a neighborhood. Being able to have a healthy diet means developing a strong body and mind which encourages learning and better decision making. But most importantly after having access to healthy food, the No Cost Grocery Program has deepened relationships within our community.
Recently a young boy from our neighborhood told me that their family didn’t have any food (family of eight – two adults and kids ranging from infant to high school). We were able to send him home with a box of healthy food – some fresh and some prepared. He shared with me that the week before there had been no food in the house for an entire weekend.
Cassy agrees that improving access to healthy food has brought their neighborhood together. “It’s nice to know you’re not the only one struggling with food. People with all different backgrounds and ethnicities are in the same situation. Having access to healthy food creates community.”
What Can I Do?
A lack of healthy food access does not just impact many Sun Valley residents, it impacts us all. The American Heart Association is working with community partners to help spread the word. Go to http://yourethecure.org/healthyfoodaccessco for more information.