Creating a healthier Memphis: Program brings healthy foods to public schools

Updated: Mar. 31, 2021 at 7:27 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - For many years Memphis has ranked high in obesity. One health care provider is hoping to make Memphis healthier by taking on a different approach and going to patients instead of waiting for them to see a doctor.

“What we’ve seen is that about one in three people is obese here in Memphis, one in five is diabetic,” said Life Doc Executive Director Pedro Velasquez Jr.

Part of Life Doc’s mission is to make Memphis healthier.

Velasquez says they came up with Wave of Health, a proactive step before a doctor’s visit.

“We wanted to change it up a bit to see if there’s a way that we can go to where they are, meet them where they’re at, and bring awareness to certain things they need to address,” said Velasquez.

Wave of Health launched as a pilot program in October of 2019 at two Green Dot Schools.

“We launched in two of their five schools, and that included a monthly distribution of healthy food, screenings, education with nutrition education,” said Velasquez.

The Mid-South Food Bank distributed more than 130,000 pounds of food in five months to these families, before COVID-19 paused the program.

Velasquez estimates they screened about 300 families and the results are the reason they’re re-launching the program now that students are back in the classroom.

“Almost 40% of the people were either diabetic or prediabetic, and they didn’t know and these are kids, and their families,” said Velasquez.

Jocquell Rodgers, Green Dot Schools Director of Community Engagement says the program has been life-changing for families.

“Parents were excited about the opportunity, some of our families do not have health insurance, so this addressed a need they had,” said Rodgers.

Rodgers believes the approach of the program takes action and creates change.

“The fact that they were coming in and providing boxes of food for families was huge because we often talk about, yes you need to eat better,” said Rogers. “Yes, you need to be in better health, but we don’t always provide the tools necessary to do that.”

Rodgers says they’re re-launching the program in April, and starting the 2021-2022 school year, the program will expand to all five of their schools.

“This relaunch we’re looking at doing it in a more consistent way where we’ll have staff at the schools full time and so it can be throughout the month that people will come get their screenings, get food, get direction,” said Velasquez.

Rodgers says with the expansion there’s the potential of impacting close to 5,000 people something Velazquez says is motivating.

“If we can prove that this works we can make this into a larger scale thing that doesn’t just depend on Life Doc Health,” said Velasquez. “It’s just how can schools look at giving access to food, education screenings and having a more definitive role in the communities they are in.”

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