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The Chicago Park District, 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. This 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 and serve as intentional community nutrition hubs that improve health outcomes for community members.

In Chicago, 1 in 5 children and older adults experience the daily struggle of food insecurity. More specifically, 4 out of 10 Black and Latino households with children report being food insecure, according to a recent Northwestern University study.

The grant will support the Park District’s efforts to increase access to healthy foods, nutrition education and wellness opportunities through established connections with Chicago agencies serving food, including Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Greater Food Depository. These agencies provide connections to social services and work in collaboration with the Chicago Department of Public Health and hospitals to increase health literacy through nutrition-focused classes for families in the Austin, North Lawndale, and South Chicago. In addition to providing healthy meals, park and recreation professionals will be piloting a number of different food access strategies.

“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 excited to bring more nutrition education and meals to our Chicago communities,” said Chicago Park District CEO, General Superintendent & Director of the NRPA Board of Directors, Michael P. Kelly. “Chicago parks are hubs of opportunities for activity, nutrition, recreation, and healthy lifestyles.”

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 four strategies:

1.    Increase access to healthy foods in low income areas through federally funded nutrition programs through parks and partners;
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 and providing SNAP/WIC enrollment and retention assistance, establishing referral systems, hosting farmers markets and accepting benefits, and offering intergenerational health literacy and meal programs;
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 increase confidence in healthy decision-making; and
4.    Disseminate information about healthy meals and access to food through our established communication outlets. 

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