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In the recipe for a successful, vibrant life, healthy food is a key ingredient. It is to human life as yeast is to bread; we need it to reach our fullest potential – to rise.

Yet, despite its importance to our well-being as humans, healthy food is often less necessity and more luxury. Economic barriers make it challenging for low-income families and service providers alike to access healthy foods. Not only are unprocessed foods like fresh fruits and vegetables often more expensive to obtain, they also require more labor and tools, and hence, even more money to get them table-ready.

After analyzing healthy food disparities as they exist in Lincoln and engaging in various conversations with local providers serving meals to children, this need became apparent to Community Health Endowment of Lincoln (CHE). And in 2018, in celebration of its 20th anniversary, CHE partnered with Community Action Partnership of Lancaster and Saunders Counties (Community Action) and Food Bank of Lincoln through an investment of $971,993 to increase access to healthy foods in Lincoln.

"Access to healthy food, or lack thereof, correlates with poverty, obesity and lower life expectancy in Lincoln,” said Lori Seibel, president and CEO of CHE. “Our board sees this investment as critical to the long-term health and well-being of the city we love.”

On March 27, CHE board members got an initial look at the projects their investment is making possible. The first: a 5,000-square-foot commercial kitchen at Community Action’s main agency location at 210 O St. Once completed in April, this Healthy Food Access Kitchen will be utilized by local catering company, Kinder Bites, to prepare healthy meals utilizing fresh, unprocessed ingredients for children in early-care centers and youth participating in the Food Bank’s Summer Food Service Program. Over 168,000 nutritious meals will be prepared in this kitchen each year, and subsequently provided to our community’s most vulnerable children.

“Serving healthier meals with unprocessed ingredients to those we serve has been a dream of ours for many years,” said Vi See, executive director of Community Action. “We know that children need repeated exposure to foods like fruits and vegetables in their earliest years to develop a preference for them long-term. This kitchen will give local service providers the capacity to ensure healthier outcomes for those they serve. We couldn’t be more grateful for CHE’s investment in this project.”

A second business, Lone Tree Foods, will also utilize the space to wash, prep and package locally produced foods (including produce, dairy and meats) for distribution to customers such as schools, hospitals and other retail locations. This partnership will not only result in greater circulation of locally sourced produce, but also support business growth opportunities for local farmers and decrease food waste.

After touring the kitchen, CHE board members enjoyed checking out the second component of their investment, Lincoln Fresh. This brightly colored vehicle mirrors the look of a traditional food truck, but it will be operated by the Food Bank to deliver fresh produce to high-poverty Lincoln neighborhoods at no cost to consumers. The truck officially began delivering produce to target neighborhoods in April. When residents see the truck, they are encouraged to stop by its window to browse various selections of produce and take some home to try. This allows consumers to try foods that they may not have otherwise risk-free.

“What’s great about Lincoln Fresh is that it brings produce directly to low-income neighborhoods, which is especially important for those without ready access to transportation,” said Scott Young, executive director of the Food Bank. “The Food Bank is thankful for CHE’s generous support and to be a part of this important, innovative project.”

Healthy food for all in Lincoln is becoming a reality due to CHE’s vision for a more vibrant community. For more information about the Healthy Food Access Program, visit communityactionatwork.org/programs/hunger-relief-healthy-food-access/healthy-food-access.html.

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L Magazine editor

Mark Schwaninger is L magazine and Neighborhood Extra editor.

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