Richmond community members petition for more salad bars in schools
on March 11, 2015
Affordable and sustainable food is a priority for Laneisha Whitfield, the director of the Richmond Food Policy Council, and her young campaigners. They are focusing on reforming school lunches, and their campaign is driven by student volunteers from high schools including Richmond High, Gompers High, Kennedy High and community organizations like Youth Engagement Strategy, RYSE Center and others. The students conduct surveys to gather research on what their peers think of school lunches and on the possibility of implementing salad bars.
“The problem is that the food is pre-packaged — some of it is cooked on site at the main school district facility,” said Whitfield. “Taste-wise, it doesn’t really appeal to the students.”
Yet, options are limited for some students. Whitfield says bringing food from home isn’t always possible for some of them. “I think a lot of children would like to, but I don’t think that everybody has the financial capacity,” Whitfield said. And eating off campus is not an option, either, since the district does not allow students to leave during school hours.
So on February 17, the Richmond Food Policy Council created an online and door-to-door petition to address the issue of getting more nutritious food for students. “We believe that the installation of salad bars in Richmond schools is one great way to increase access to healthy, whole foods, instill healthy eating habits and help prevent childhood obesity in our community,” the petition reads.
Destined for the West Contra Costa Unified School District (WCCUSD) board, the goal of the petition is to install salad bars into all district schools, or — if the facility is not ready — then to at least have the cafeteria offer more fruits and vegetables. The petition is targeting four Richmond schools that have the necessary equipment for the process: Lincoln Elementary, Peres Elementary, Grant Elementary and Lovonya DeJean Middle.
In 2012, a study done by the UCLA Health Center for Policy Research showed that over half of Richmond middle school students were overweight. Whitfield lists different causes that “are predecessors to obesity,” from socioeconomic factors to low levels of physical activity to Richmond being a “food desert,” defined as a neighborhood with a lack of access to fresh, healthy and affordable foods.
With over 300 signatures online and more gathered through the door-to-door campaign, the support for the petition is growing. Some supporters commented online about why they signed.
“Kids should all be able to have access to a healthy meal especially AT SCHOOL,” wrote one.
“My granddaughter goes to a WCCUSD school, and I am very concerned about the lunches she gets at school,” wrote another.
“Healthy food is where real education begins,” wrote a third.
The petition has also caught the attention of Richmond’s city council. At its February 17 meeting, an item put forth by Councilmembers Jovanka Beckles and Eduardo Martinez directed city staff to write a letter addressed to the school board supporting the petition.
After retiring from 18 years as a WCCUSD schoolteacher, Martinez says he understands how important it is to offer fresh choices to students. “There is not enough green healthy food offered to our kids,” said Martinez, who continues to work as a substitute for the school district. “You know the quality of our food affects the quality of our health, and the quality of our health affects the quality of our ability to learn. It just seemed like a no-brainer.”
But the process of installing more salad bars isn’t that simple. “I would have them in all schools, if I could by now,” said Barbara Jellison, director of food services for the school district. “But because of the facilities being so different from each other, depending on when they were built, it hasn’t been possible.”
The schools need to have the right equipment in order to be able to have the salad bars installed, she said. This equipment includes items such as triple-compartmentalized sinks and a big enough space to store all the necessary items. Each salad bar costs around $3,000 per school, which covers the inserts for the cold units, the sneeze guard (a glass shield to protect the food) and the serving equipment. The funding for the salad bars comes through grants as well as an award received from the Healthy Kids Challenge, a non-profit that helps schools and community programs create policies for nutrition education.
“As of now, we do have seven salad bars out of 42 of our elementary schools,” said Jellison, who oversees all the meal programs during school, after school and during the summer sessions. She says she expects to be rolling out more salad bars next month in Richmond schools like at Highland Elementary and possibly Mira Vista Elementary. She says she is looking into purchasing three more units for Richmond schools, but is actively seeking more funding.
Jellison, who had been unaware of the petition until contacted by a Richmond Confidential reporter, said she is more than happy to work with the community to help schools install the salad bars.
“Her desire for more nutritious and healthy well balance food for our students is evident, however the resources are not there to really help her,” said Whitfield. “That is why with this campaign, we’re looking to work in partnership with her, to really be her legs to help her move this work.”
The campaigners will be collecting signatures through April 12, and hope to reach 1,100 signatures.
To find out more about the petition, you can read it online here.
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