In Dallas, there’s a program designed to send kids home from school each week loaded up with fresh fruits and veggies.
Brighter Bites, the nonprofit behind students' heaping bags of produce, also makes sure that parents know what to do with that food.
Stocking up on fresh food before break
It’s the Friday before Spring Break, and the school gym at John Quincy Adams Elementary southeast of downtown Dallas is loud and bustling.
Instead of stampeding kids chasing a basketball — 15 parents are making all this noise. They’re opening boxes, taking apart palettes, stuffing grocery bags full of fruits and veggies from the North Texas Food Bank and even hauling out trash.
They’re a well-oiled machine.
“And you do not want to interrupt those parents,” says Alica Farhat, who runs the Dallas office of Brighter Bites.
The nonprofit serves 15 North Texas schools, a handful in Austin and several dozen in Houston.
The volunteers here at Adams all have kids at the school and will all take home 26 pounds of fresh produce this afternoon before the weeklong spring vacation.
“And it’s something we hear a lot from our families, especially those on the Thursday or Friday distributions when the weekend is just around the corner, is how helpful it is for them for the week to come.”
Today, grocery bags are being filled with nine different fruits and veggies — everything from eggplant to celery and sweet potatoes to navel oranges.
Learning to cook and enjoy unfamiliar foods
Based on the USDA average prices of each of these foods per pound, 300 families at Adams will go into the weekend with about $38 worth of produce. They’ll also take home the know-how to integrate this food into their family’s diet.
“For example, today we have eggplant. Many parents don’t know what to do with eggplant, how to cook it, so we have how-to sheets on how to prepare the eggplant, how to cut it, how to slice it. You need to peel it before you cook it, if not it’s not going to taste right.”
Recipe cards go home, too — for simple, interesting dishes, like grapefruit mint salad, beet smoothies and black bean dip. Parents and kids get to taste samples when they pick up their bags too.
Volunteer and mother-of-two Alma Morales loves giving the new foods a try at home.
“It’s healthy and the bag is coming with the recipe and the recipe helps me and my family. Everything is very good for me, I love it, this program.”
Morales is on a tight budget and says the produce helps keep her family’s fridge full. Parent Carolina Guerra feels the same way—especially with Spring Break this week.
“We can actually have a really great breakfast. We have cantaloupe this time, I saw a cantaloupe in there. We can break that up and serve it to our kids in the morning, and I know my son loves cantaloupe.”
Volunteers benefit from the work, too
She, her husband and her third grader have really gotten into the Brighter Bites food — roasting squash in the oven for dinner, enjoying fresh fruit with breakfast and snacking on celery. And Guerra says volunteering to sort produce and stuff bags has helped her.
“As in physical, because it is a work out. Emotionally, you make friends.”
And that’s obvious when you watch these parents work. They smile and chat, they’re clearly having fun, but there’s nothing casual about this volunteer time. They’re focused, they’re driven. They care about what they’re doing.
Alicia Farhat says that’s probably because Brighter Bites serves the whole family, sending home food for the students — and parents.
“Making sure that parents understand the nutritional value, fruits and vegetables and including them in the diet, it’s just as important as having those nutrition lessons in the classroom for the kids to also learn that. So both need to happen at the same time so then there can be some behavior change in the home.”
That’s whole point of Brighter Bites: making each home a little healthier, one week at a time. That might explain why these parents are so willing to spend a Friday afternoon sorting 7,800 pounds of green beans, pears and tomatoes.