Vegetables are often one of those difficulties in childhood, ask many parents, it’s hard enough to get kids to eat them. But it’s worse when you realize how many families lack the ability to have that problem in the first place. Brighter Bites is changing that one school at a time. And now they’ve arrived in Immokalee.
“We used to do produce co-oping at home years ago, but the turning point was honestly when my then six-year-old told me he didn’t want to eat the cake at a birthday party, he wanted to ask them if they had some fruit instead,” Lisa Helfman, founder of Brighter Bites said. “It was really life changing for us, merely having access to fresh fruits and vegetables, so I started Brighter Bites to give people that chance.”
On Wednesday, families cycled in and out of Eden Park Elementary in Immokalee, several pounds of produce for each family, all locally grown. Even the staff operates like a family, keeping each other in high spirits and raising each other up. It was the second of two distributions they did in Immokalee this week.
Starting in the Houston, Texas area, they expanded to nearly 50 schools in that state, including some in Dallas and Austin. They’ve got places in Prince Georges County, in Maryland, a suburb of the nation’s capital. They’ve even been distributing food in the Bronx.
98 percent of Brighter Bites parents report their children eating more fruits and vegetables while participating in the Brighter Bites program. Of those, 74 percent said they maintained that increased level of consumption after Brighter Bites ended. This is important because it stays with the kids to adulthood, the health part of it as well as the ready acceptance of more produce in a diet.
The plan is to have five schools in Collier by the end of next school year and start expanding throughout Florida.
“We’ve given out 16 million pounds of food to date, not including our time in Immokalee,” Stefanie Cousins, the Director of Marketing and Communications said. “Which is no small feat considering how many families that actually feeds.”
They’ve partnered with Lipman Family Farms, a massive family owned farm system based in Immokalee that has locations in multiple states, and the Harry Chapin Food Bank locally. These partnerships are crucial to Brighter Bites ease of moving food and making sure families have access to what they need.
Education is just as important to access, so they also prepare easy and fun ways to prepare all of their produce, be it through pickling or simple additions to other staple meals.
They do extensive research after every event, trying to keep up with their bases as well as can be expected, through e-mail and some exit surveying.
“Food security is a dangerous statistic, and it’s not like I’m preaching to people that they have to eat vegetables, we’re just doing our best to give people access to them,” Helfman said “It was eye opening how nearly impossible it is to get fresh produce outside of the Houston Metro, and a lot of it goes to waste because some families have never cooked with it before, so why would they buy it?”
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