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Initiative Provides Free Produce To School Children In Food Deserts

A program brings school children a step closer to a healthful diet.

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At Lantrip Elementary School in Houston’s East End, parents are lining up for their two free bags of fresh produce.

One of them is Allan Nava, father of a third-grader there.

“I got some bell peppers, some salad fixings, fresh fruit, some squash…a lot of great stuff,” he says.

It’s part of a program called “Brighter Bites,” a collaboration by the Houston Food Bank, Texas Children’s Hospital and the University of Texas School of Public Health. It brings fresh fruits and vegetables to schools and YMCAs in communities with a low number of grocery stores, or “food deserts.”

After starting at one KIPP school last school year, the program has now expanded to nine elementary and middle schools and three YMCAs — primarily in the East End and the Third Ward.

At Lantrip Elementary, the truck from the Houston Food Bank comes every Wednesday and parent volunteers bag them and hand them out to parents who have signed up for the program.

Susan Carpenter is a science teacher and the Brighter Bites coordinator at the school.

“We have been bagging about 475 sets of bags, so close to 1,000 bags of food, all within about an hour, so it’s been really impressive,” she says.

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About 600 Lantrip Elementary students have signed up for the program.

Carpenter says that’s more than three-quarters of the student population.

“We tried to promote it with the kids in class and then with the parents and even on the PTA website they’ve been sharing recipes and then we post pictures in the hallway of what the parents are eating and we have the kids write on paper plates about what they’ve been eating, the different recipes and how they’ve been eating healthy at home.”

And she says the kids love it.

“When my students, when they come to class, they’re excited about, ‘Oh, it’s Brighter Bites day, I hope my parents come and they come and tell me what they ate and they’ll tell me the next day I had a banana or an apple or my parents made this,’” Carpenter says.

Allan Nava, the parent, says he is really thankful for the opportunity because the one grocery store in the area doesn’t have a good selection of fruits and vegetables.

“The produce section is very small, and the stuff that’s there is… it’s slim pickings, man. It’s very… It seems like it’s just not a lot of variety and it’s just not very good.”

The other challenge is, of course, to get your child to eat those veggies.

Nava says his son generally likes vegetables.

“Sometimes, we have to bargain with him, just to get him to try stuff,” he says. “But then once he tries it, he’s like, oh, it’s not so bad.”

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