It’s not often that preschoolers are eager to eat their vegetables, but Wayne Metropolitan Community Action Agency is working to change that.
With the help of a grant from United Way for Southeastern Michigan, Wayne Metro is innovating its Meet Up and Eat Up program, adding fun nutrition and fitness-based activities and increasing access to fresh produce.
“It’s a lot of fun to introduce kids to foods they haven’t tried before and get them excited about it,” said Jenna Maxwell, healthy communities manager at Wayne Metro.
United Way for Southeastern Michigan works with our partners to create a culture of wellness. Together, we ensure that families can meet their basic needs.
This year, we issued $250,000 in mini-grants to six Meet Up and Eat Up meal sponsors. The funds will allow them to invest in innovative and strategic projects this summer. Four additional organizations also received funds to provide enrichment at summer meal sites.
Prior to the grants, Katherine Fuller, health and basic needs manager at United Way for Southeastern Michigan and her team met with site sponsors to discuss how United Way could support their efforts to improve programs and increase summer meal site participation.
“It’s exciting to see what these organizations are doing to increase access to healthy meals,” said Katherine.
Wayne Metro operates 15 Meet Up and Eat Up summer meal sites across Detroit and Wayne County. It has used the grant to add a mobile Snack Wagon to its summer feeding efforts, which provides an additional 200 children with healthy food each day.
The organization has also used the grant to hire staff to assist with serving and counting meals, as well as planning site activities.
“Our goal is to increase excitement and access to food,” Jenna said. “We’ve learned that when you create a fun, engaging program, kids want to come back day after day and year after year.”
Recently, the monitors began helping participants create food diaries. As a result, they can track what they’re eating and see where improvements can be made.
They’re using the U.S. Department of Agriculture MyPlate model, which encourages kids to be health-conscious eaters. As a result, they’re thinking about the nutritional value of the foods that fill their plates.
During the summer, kids who receive free and reduced-price lunches at school are at increased risk for hunger. That’s why Jenna’s team at Wayne Metro emphasizes the importance of adequate nutrition. It’s having an impact beyond Meet Up and Eat Up sites.
With this in mind, Wayne Metro is teaming up with Buckets of Rain, an organization that repurposes blighted lots into gardens offering vegetables free of charge to partners and neighbors. Kids are encouraged to try vegetables like carrots and beets. They also receive baskets of produce and recipes to try at home.
Together, organizations like Wayne Metro and United Way are empowering families to make healthy eating a family goal.
To find a Meet Up and Eat Up site near you, call 2-1-1 or text “FOOD” to 877-877.