Of all the ideas brought up in the large conference room at Nevin Community Center on Wednesday morning, one rang true for everyone: to help solve the obesity crisis and help Richmond’s families live healthier lives, community programs need to stop duplicating services and start working together.
“Doing one thing together would be better than doing 50 things in silos,” said Cheryl Maier, a member of the West County HEAL Collaborative.
The meeting was the second of three community forums staged across Contra Costa County this week by staff of the Contra Costa Health Services’ Community Wellness & Prevention Program. The goal: to solicit input from communities on what’s working and what’s not regarding nutrition education, healthy food choices and exercise.
Although there was only what health education specialist Gwenn White called a “small but mighty” group in attendance, the input gathered Wednesday could have an impact on Richmond’s public health landscape over the next few years.
That’s because it will help inform new grant-funded initiatives through the Network for a Healthy California, a state program that promotes access to fresh produce and daily physical activity in low-income communities. Local organizations working on these issues would be able to apply to be sub-contractors with the county.
Specifics are still in the works, but Contra Costa Health Services staff promised that the grant details would roll out in time for a vendors’ conference in April, application deadlines in May or June, and an implementation of new county initiatives by Oct. 1.
According to county data, more than half of the county’s adults – and more than one third of West Contra Costa Unified’s fifth graders – are overweight or obese.
But Richmond already has a large number of programs in place to combat these numbers. As county coordinators grabbed markers and scribbled notes, community members listed a slew of sports and nutrition organizations in Richmond such as Eco Village Farms, Urban Tilth, Pogo Park, Police Activities League, Healthy and Active Before 5, Youth Enrichment Strategies, Building Blocks for Kids Collaborative, and the city’s own Health Equity Partnership, among others. Richmond is also the only city in Contra Costa County to have its own Food Policy Council.
What’s not working, however, is more vague – and more complex. There are very few full-service grocery stores within city limits, for instance. While the markets on the 23rd Street corridor sell fresh produce, said Cheryl Maier, other neighborhoods, such as the ones surrounding Peres, Verde, and Nystrom Elementary schools, don’t have many food options at all.
“Liquor store owners don’t want to provide produce because it goes bad and people don’t buy it,” said Maier. “In order to make healthy food sell, you have to educate everyone in the community.”
Attendees were also concerned about night safety, which impacts outdoor activity in many areas. Some also pointed out that school sports fields should be made available on weekends, that schools should better integrate gardening and nutrition into their curricula, and there should be more scholarships available for local activities like swim classes.
But what it might really come down to, some argued, is family.
“You’ve got to be able to motivate the parents,” said Khalia Naquin, 20, a Richmond resident and student at Contra Costa College. “I was in a lot of programs when I was young. It wasn’t because the school funded it – it was because my mom wanted me to do it.”