MCC’s New Food Buying Program Aims to Tackle Food Insecurity and Obesity Starting at Birth

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Originally posted by Hilary Verbuch on November 15, 2017

Maternity Care Coalition, in partnership with Thomas Jefferson University and the Share Food Program, is excited to announce the launch of Cultivating Healthy Eating & Wellness (C.H.E.W. ), a new food buying club based in our South Philadelphia community-based site to promote a culture of health and wellness*.

Childhood obesity has reached epidemic proportions and as a result, risk among children for cardiovascular disease (and other chronic conditions related to obesity) has increased.  This epidemic is particularly relevant in Philadelphia, the city with the second-highest rate of obesity among the nation’s largest cities. More than 68% of adults and 41% of children are overweight or obese and one in five children are food insecure. Among under-served and low-income communities, lack of access to fresh, healthy foods as well as prohibitive costs are major factors in food decisions and can be barriers to healthy eating.

In order to help address this growing problem, Maternity Care Coalition(MCC), together with Thomas Jefferson University and the Share Food Program, has developed a food buying program that will allow families to purchase fresh meats, fruits and vegetables at affordable, wholesale prices. Share currently manages multi-faceted food distribution operations, to bring a steady, reliable stream of food relief to over 500 volunteer-led food cupboards.  A culture of health begins with modeling by caregivers. Employing a multi-generational approach that engages pregnant parents, young families and childcare providers is the best approach to reducing the risk for cardiovascular disease and other chronic conditions among at-risk children. Our intervention provides opportunities for parents to learn healthy living strategies at the MCC Early Head Start South Philadelphia Center and implement them in their homes.

Orders are placed once a month and food is distributed at our South Philadelphia Early Head Start site. We are working with Share to make sure that the diverse food preferences of our community are represented and we offer a variety of ways for families to purchase food, including SNAP vouchers. In addition to the food buying aspect, we also offer accompanying nutritional education for families and staff: cooking classes and demonstrations, recipe newsletters and physical fitness suggestions to increase knowledge about healthy eating and wellness. Through these activities, we aim to break unhealthy learned habits and replace them with an informed, healthy view of food and nutrition. We want families and staff to feel ownership of their own health and feel that they have the tools and resources to make positive decisions about what they feed themselves and their children.

While food buying programs are increasingly popular, the idea of serving families with infants and toddlers is novel. The first three years of life are critical in determining lifelong patterns of healthy behavior and is the most important time to intervene. Breastfeeding, first food and physical activity habits can all form the foundation for future success. Very little programming acknowledges this critical time period and the important role that parents serve as children’s first role models. MCC has always been a leader in addressing the needs of families and children 0-3 years of age and we hope that with the addition of C.H.E.W., we can continue to expand our focus on health and wellness.

By working with pregnant women, nursing mothers and parents of young infants and toddlers, there is an opportunity to help create healthy lifetime habits around food. Our program is open to MCC staff, client families and community partners who are able to pick up their food packages in South Philadelphia. So far, we’ve had 20 families and 27 staff members participate and we’ve been thrilled with the positive feedback we’ve received from them. We hope to eventually expand the program to other MCC sites around the city and in surrounding counties. Stay tuned for new developments!

For more information on C.H.E.W. or to register for the program, please reach out to Hilary Verbuch at [email protected].


*The project is generously funded by the Thomas Jefferson University and the Edna G. Kynett Memorial Foundation.