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Turning Good into Greater Good

The Fit and Food Connection

The Fit and Food Connection, a 2019 SOS Grantee is a 501(c)(3) organization providing healthy living resources through nutrition and physical fitness to families in need.  We hope you enjoy this story.

It was almost dinner time, and once again, the kids were hungry and restless.

Amy paced the floor of her kitchen, holding her infant on her hip and side-stepping the toddler at her feet.

When she heard the knock at the door, she breathed a small sigh of relief.

Roy, a volunteer with St. Louis nonprofit The Fit and Food Connection, stood at the threshold with a bag of groceries and a beaming smile.

In minutes, Roy was at the counter, unloading the groceries. Amy’s 10-year-old, Alex, grimaced at the veggies coming out of the bag.

He held up a long green vegetable and glared at it. “Ew, Roy. What is THIS thing?”

Roy chuckled, “It’s a zucchini. You can cook them on the stove, make them into chips in the oven, make a sweet bread out of them and even use them as noodles!”

The boy scrunched up his face in a mixture of disgust and disbelief.

Woman handing vegetables to child.Roy laughed again, “I promise! Come to a cooking class Saturday morning and I’ll show you. Look, I brought raisins and walnuts which will go great in the bread and we’re going to make veggie lasagna with the zucchini, this tomato sauce and these spices from the garden.”

Skeptical but interested in any excuse to try something new, Alex asked, “Mom, can we go?”

Amy and her family are just one of many who receive food and cooking tips from The Fit and Food Connection (FAFC), a Spirit of St. Louis Women’s Fund grantee that provides healthy living resources through nutrition and physical fitness to families in need.  This is provided to encourage participation across the broadest possible spectrum of economic levels in northern St. Louis.

“The connection of food provision, lifestyle programming and coaching, and education is a dynamic solution to address general poverty’s impact on health,” their website says.

One of the many ways FAFC works to positively impact health is by providing their consumers with a weekly supply of healthy snacks, fresh fruits and vegetables and lean proteins.

“We offer food assistance and a delivery service,” said Gabrielle Cole, co-executive director and co-founder of the organization, “kind of like a healthy pantry.”

Kids and adults working in gardenFAFC partners with Urban Harvest, local food distributors, Fit Flavors and Starbucks, all of whom provide items from their chilled area, including fruits, sandwiches and salads. In addition, the organization maintains several community gardens and hosts two food drives annually.

A typical delivery includes five to six healthy prepackaged snacks; five to six canned goods like beans, vegetables and potted meats; fresh fruits and vegetables ranging from oranges to kale; and a selection of frozen meat. The package is intended to provide a substantial portion of the weekly food consumed by a family of four.

When Food Alone Isn’t Enough

Cole and her FAFC co-founder, Joy Millner, started the nonprofit seven years ago. At first, they were only providing healthy food and one fitness class a week. But it didn’t take long for the pair to realize there was a bigger need.

Many of the families didn’t know what to do with the fresh fruit, vegetables and herbs.

Individuals sitting at tables in classroom.“Some people would use their phone to figure out recipes, some would ask a neighbor, I was getting a lot of calls,” Cole said, “that’s when we began offering cooking and meal prep demonstrations, in addition to the nutrition seminars.”

These seminars are offered to recipients monthly and include cooking demos and basic nutrition information. They are taught by volunteer nutritionists, dietitians, board members, volunteer drivers, Millner and Cole.

Community members are given a lot of input into the curriculum offered, and as a result, the sessions are very well-attended. They are family oriented and children are welcome.

The kitchen is often referred to as the hub of the home and FAFC wants to help all members of the family feel comfortable and confident with the food available to them in their home.

“It’s really something,” Cole said. “When healthy foods are foreign to you, for example, eggplant or zucchini or dried herbs, you don’t really know what to do with them. You don’t know how to cut fresh vegetables if no one has ever shown you. You don’t know how to prepare and serve them to your family.”

Fitness Matters

In addition to providing healthy food, FAFC offers fitness classes monthly at three locations in St. Louis: the St. Louis Public Library, University of Missouri-St. Louis Extension office and Beyond Housing.

They offer chair yoga, Zumba, dance classes, boxing and a boot camp style program. These classes are open to the public and attendance ranges anywhere from 25-45 people.

Each class begins and ends with a meditation, stretch and motivational/spoken word from the instructor, typically Millner. They are given a healthy snack when they leave to encourage them to continue healthy habits.

Between the food and fitness sides of the organization, they have seen their clients develop healthier lifestyles, lose weight and even come off medication they’ve been taking for years.

The need for this type of support in St. Louis is very real. The organization began in 2013 and grew so quickly that by 2015 they were identified as a nonprofit, formed a board and formalized their operations. Today, they provide 45-55 families with weekly food delivery.

They rely heavily on their volunteers to pick up food, divvy up donations into the weekly food packages and deliver to families on Sunday afternoons. They strive to build relationships between volunteers and the families they serve and ask for a 6-12 month commitment from their volunteers, Cole said.

The grant money provided by SOS will help the organization purchase food, reusable grocery bags and put on the classes that have become such an integral part of their program, Cole said. .

In the next year, FAFC hopes to bridge the gap between the food and fitness side of the program and see more integration of participants between the two facets.

Note: Elements of the narrative portion of this profile have been fictionalized in order to best communicate the organization’s work while still protecting the privacy of its clients.

Profile written by Lindsey Kleinschmidt of 618 Creative. Photos via The Fit and Food Connection.

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