By Nikki Thompson
(Image courtesy of World Hunger Relief, Inc.)
Waco is a hotspot for hunger-related issues. Residents who struggle with poverty often deal with food insecurity. That, paired with the food deserts in Waco, results in a vicious cycle of eating unhealthy foods because they are the most readily available, getting sick, and being unable to pay for healthcare. Furthermore, research shows that nutrition directly affects performance in school. In Waco, food deserts correlate with underperforming and even failing schools. These circumstances reduce the student’s probability of getting a high-paying job, which then reduces options for the next generation. This cycle of poverty is connected to a lack of nutritional produce.
World Hunger Relief, Inc. attempts to address hunger on both a global and a local scale. Its involvement in the Waco community has seen a significant increase in healthy eating. WHRI partners with the Waco government and local nonprofits in various projects to promote policy reform and to increase wellness within the community. Two of their most successful projects are the Veggie Van and the school gardening initiative.
The Veggie Van was launched in June of 2015 as a mobile market system to bring fresh produce to food deserts throughout Waco. This makes it possible for those people who do not live within a two-mile radius of a grocery store and do not have a car to have access to food with nutritional value. The van sells fresh and locally grown produce at affordable prices. Each sale also includes a recipe, so the buyer can know how to cook the produce, thus making it more likely that they will eat it and continue to come back. The van not only makes healthy food available to the community, it sparks conversation about healthy living and why it is important.
Another way WHRI addresses hunger and health in Waco is through their school gardening program. WHRI supports the Heart of Texas Urban Gardening Coalition in many community-wide initiatives. The mission of this program is to partner with schools and develop sustainable communities by teaching students how to grow a sustainable food system and why it is important. Volunteers with WHRI teach students how to grow ornamental plants and food crops. Students are involved in the planting and maintenance of the gardens and as a result, they learn about plants and healthy diets. WHRI is currently partnered with Indian Springs middle school and J.H. Hines elementary.
These two programs are examples of creative ways WHRI addresses hunger in Waco. These are the kinds of solutions we should be seeking for community-wide problems instead of just focusing on legislation. By getting the community involved and making them aware of the problem, WHRI has seen a significant increase in the overall health of Waco. Understanding that communal problems are complex and affect multiple aspects of life is key to change.
Nikki is a junior majoring in professional writing and rhetoric.