VOICE UNC co-editor
The Durham VOICE
The same foods that most kids try their best to avoid at the dinner table are now making a daily appearance at Y.E. Smith Elementary School.
The school is the proud recipient of the USDA Grant for Fruit and Vegetables awarded at the beginning of this year.
“Research already tells us that children have an impact on food purchase within households,” said David Reese, director of the East Durham Children’s Initiative. “The consistent exposure to fruits in school, the exposure to the garden and consistent messaging regarding healthy food choices should have an effect on siblings and other family members.”
According to Jennifer Hopkins, child nutrition supervisor for Durham Public Schools, Y.E. Smith is one of two elementary schools in Durham, and 109 schools across the state to implement the fresh produce program. The grant states that the goal of the program is to promote healthier food choices among children throughout the school day.
Students at the school are given either fresh fruit or fresh vegetables every morning in their classrooms. Hopkins says that upon receiving the food, the kids are then read a brief educational paragraph filled with fun facts to make the snacks more interesting. Those working with the program at Y.E. Smith hope that this will not only help the children to choose healthier items during school, but will also carry over to healthier choices the rest of the day.
The fruits and vegetables given out change by the season, but Hopkins said they try to use local produce as much as possible. She said the food distributed includes anything from apples, oranges and kiwis, to peppers, broccoli and carrots. New fruits and vegetables are added to the list every day.
“We try some things over and over again to expose them to it,” said Dr. Jennifer McDuffie, program manager for Achieving Health for a Lifetime. “They say it takes eight to 12 times of a child tasting something to like it. Then it becomes familiar.”
With many new options for local produce in the area, such as TROSA grocery, administrators say they hope the students will carry this appreciation for new foods back home.
“One of the purposes of the program is to expose the kids to things they have never had before,” said Hopkins. “The idea is to get the kids to go home, having tasted something and liked it, and ask for it.”
Each morning, two or three volunteers come to the school to help prepare the food for the kids. After loading up carts full of the day’s produce, the volunteers walk around to each of the 18 classrooms and distribute the food, already prepared and ready to eat. The serving size is usually ¼ cup to ½ cup.
“They get so excited. That’s the most fun part–delivering the snacks and seeing all the little heads turn towards the door,” said Barbara Shumannfang, a volunteer from the Partnership for a Healthy Durham.
Other organizations volunteering at Y.E. Smith include North Carolina Central University, Durham Technical Community College and the Downtown Durham Rotary Club.
The grant was also awarded to E.K. Powe Elementary School, and has now been active there for three years. People working with Y.E. Smith say they hope to build on the grant similar to some of the things done at E.K. Powe, but also have new plans for how to implement the grant on their own campus.
It becomes clear after walking down the hall with a cart full of nectarines that the students enjoy this part of the day. One at a time, the boxes of fresh fruit are dropped off to classrooms full of smiling students. One door opens to a simultaneous “Ooh” from the students inside.
“That’s the best sound in the world, isn’t it?” said Hopkins. “Children being excited about fruits and vegetables.”