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From Farm to School: The YMCA’s Food, Fit & Fun Program

Many of us grew up being told to “Eat your vegetables!” Unfortunately, in some underserved communities, it can be difficult to follow this advice.

September is National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month and the perfect time to announce a new grant-funded program between the Tampa Metropolitan Area YMCA and the U.S Department of Agriculture (USDA):  Food, Fit & Fun. The program will be available to children enrolled in YMCA afterschool programs

“Their whole purpose is farm-to-school, so it’s putting produce in the hands of kids and their families to better give them access and to get them to try new fruits and vegetables and more fresh foods,” says Nicole Kettermann, Healthy and Safe Children Director, Fit and Fun at the Y. “This grant will go perfectly with our Fit and Fun program, a curriculum-based program that focuses on fitness and nutrition education, increasing physical activity levels, and preventing childhood obesity, funded by the Children’s Board of Hillsborough County.”

Research suggests the obesity epidemic is more prevalent in low-income areas due to limited access to healthy foods, safe places for outdoor activities and access to preventative health care services. These grant-funded programs are just some of the ways we’re working to turn the epidemic around and, as a result, improve the health of the entire community.

One location Food Fit & Fun visits is Sulphur Springs K-8 Community School, which is considered a “food desert.” A food desert is defined as an urban neighborhood without ready access to fresh, healthy and affordable food. The program also visits registered Y youth at YMCA Camp Cristina, Northwest Hillsborough Family YMCA and Bob Sierra Youth and Family Center.

Another element to the program incorporates the Tampa Y’s Veggie Van, a mobile marketplace that serves underserved areas of Tampa Bay. The Veggie Van will deliver produce, including locally grown offerings, to Food, Fit and Fun sites for monthly snack demonstrations. This relationship will also benefit families, as new families learn about the Veggie Van’s services and delivery schedule.

The Food, Fit and Fun program will also incorporate the Learning Garden in Sulphur Springs where community partners and volunteers can donate their time, skills and supplies to help provide continuous bounty to the Y’s Veggie Van and similar programs while getting the Y afterschool children involved. Sulphur Springs Teen Achievers will also be involved as they work on a business plan and distribution plan.

Kettermann explains that programs like Food, Fit & Fun are even more critical because of the pandemic. “So, on top of being a food desert, on top of just not having access to fresh produce, kids aren’t getting outside and active like they need to,” she says. “I think it’s amazing these programs can be here and I think it’s even more important now than ever.”

One in four children in the U.S. does not know where their next meal is coming from. “Here at the YMCA of the Suncoast, we know that children who receive daily nutrition are set up to succeed. That’s why we’re helping kids reach their full potential by providing free access to healthy meals when schools are out for summer and for year-round afterschool programs,” says Stephen L Hutchinson, Regional Executive Director of School Age Programs YMCA of the Suncoast.

We have always wanted to grow a stronger, healthier and better community. The program builds on the Y’s mission to offer quality out-of-school care for the youth in our community. Sarah: Can you ask Kelli who said this? Ketterman or Hutchinson? Thanks!

About the Author: Kelli Biandudi is the Communications Manager for the Tampa Metropolitan Area YMCA. She lives with her family in downtown Tampa. When she’s not promoting the good work of the YMCAs of Tampa Bay, she’s busy working out at them and trying to keep up with her 5-year-old son, Koa.

Feature image provided by the YMCA:The learning garden in Sulphur Springs grows healthy produce like collard greens along with some kale, habanero peppers, Thai chili peppers, spinach, broccoli and much more. The Y looks forward to hosting more outdoor classroom experiences like these with kids and families in the community in partnership with the Food, Fit and Fun grant.

Presented by the YMCA  |  Originally published in our 2021 September Issue  

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