CHESAPEAKE, Va. (WAVY)- ForKids in Chesapeake recently received a $50,000 grant from Elevance Health Foundation to fight childhood food insecurity.
The grant is part of Elevance Health Foundation’s $23 million Food as Medicine program. The effort aims to fight food insecurity and improve diet quality and health outcomes for communities. ForKids serves Hampton Roads with emergency shelter services, educational programs, and food assistance. According to CEO Thaler McCormick, grants like this make ForKids’ work possible.
“This grant has been so instrumental because at ForKids and everyone else across the country, food costs have gone up and up and up,” she said.
She said that healthy habits, including maintaining a good diet, can change a child’s life.
“I think our education team really sees that once children get regular meals, sleep at night, and improve their overall health, the kids are far more able to focus in our after-school programs, and they’re just far more likely to succeed in life,” she said.
But, far too many children in the area don’t get enough to eat. Nationwide, one in eight people experience food insecurity. Thaler says half of the ForKids families have experienced food insecurity.
“When a kid wakes up in the morning and they can’t get a healthy breakfast, it makes them far less likely to concentrate in school. They’re far more likely to become sick and be subject to all of the colds and bugs flying around, and they’re tired. They’re just fatigued and they can’t concentrate,” Thaler said. “So that’s why it’s important for our kids to start the day with a healthy meal and then have healthy food all day long to help grow those brains cells and let them succeed in life.”
Johnny Wright is the head chef in the ForKids kitchen, through the organization’s partnership with Healthy Chesapeake. Thaler says Wright is the backbone of the café, greeting customers daily with a smile and a hug. He’s known for cooking delicious meals and teaching children to try healthy foods.
“Just knowing that my presence, my team’s presence, we’re able to transform lives,” Wright said of his job. “We have an impact on the children here and that’s the best part of my life.”
Wright and his team teach cooking classes and educate families on healthy eating. ForKids conducts a meal kit program, sending families home with food for the week. They’re also able to try out Wright’s tips and recipes at home.
For many children, Wright becomes a friend and mentor. But for children who’re facing homelessness, warming up to a stranger takes time.
“It’s a comfort level at first. They’re not used to this chipper guy. Once they finally understand that, hey, ‘this guy’s for real,’ it’s genuine, that’s when the walls come down and we have a healthy relationship,” he said.
He says the best part of his day is greeting children after school, providing a snack, and later a healthy dinner.
Food insecurity is plaguing the entire nation. The food index rose 11.4% in the last year alone.
Elevance Health’s Chief Health Officer, Dr. Shantanu Agrawal, says the most effective way to fight hunger is at the local level.
Elevance Health Foundation also awarded grants to Virginia-based Food & Friends, Inc., Fit4Kids, and Virginia Foundation for Community College Education.
“Local factors really do matter. When you think about addressing food security for the country, you have to break that down and look at different communities and different populations,” Agrawal said. “There are different reasons why families might be food insecure. I think the importance of local efforts is that they’re local and they really seek to understand what’s driving food insecurity.”
To learn more about ForKids, visit ForKids.org.