West Vernon Elementary School in South Los Angeles is vying to be a recipient of a $500,000 national grant program to fund improvements in children’s health and nutrition. The initiative was launched at the school this week.
The initiative, a collaboration between the United Health Foundation and Whole Kids Foundation, has earmarked $25,000 for the Central and South Central region of Los Angeles.
Elementary schools throughout the country will be able to apply for funding, ranging from $15,000 to $25,000, and the application consists of pitching innovative projects in line with the grant’s goals. West Vernon is an applicant and if chosen, it will be one of 10 to 12 schools participating in the program nationwide.
“We’re breaking through the cycle of unhealthy living,” said Councilman Curren Price at Thursday’s launch, referencing that the grant could join a long list of initiatives his office has taken to improve access to nutrition and green space in his district. “When our kids are happy and healthy, our future is bright.”
West Vernon has collaborated with Whole Kids Foundation in the past, the latter being a nonprofit organization under the grocery store chain Whole Foods that works to improve nutrition and health in schools.
The school has experience with using grants to fund its healthy living initiatives. In 2011, West Vernon received a $2,000 grant to build a garden for its students.
“At the garden, students see they could have it and they can take it — an apple instead of a bag of chips,” said Frances Valadez, principal at West Vernon.
While the school is applying for the grant, its principal Valadez is already busy at work making changes: the school has just finished training teachers and staff for onsite nutrition classes. Within the next month, there will be food specialists for third through fifth grade to provide advice on nutrition.
“We need to put awareness into inner city families,” Valadez said. “Changing the mindset takes time.”
The grant could prove to have a largely beneficial affect for the area’s children, said LaVonna Lewis, a USC public policy professor whose research specializes in healthcare for underrepresented groups. She cited that grants aimed toward nutrition promotion are a sound solution for budget-strapped schools that otherwise can’t combat the issue.
“Grants give schools and other organizations money that they might not normally have in their budget to be creative in terms of adjusting problems they are having,” she said. “So giving a school a grant to come up with innovative strategies for addressing obesity or poor nutrition on campus is a good idea — they wouldn’t be able come up with it otherwise.”
Parts of South Los Angeles are often cited as “food deserts,” or blocks, neighborhoods and larger regions that lack options for healthy choices. Targeting those areas with nutrition promotion initiatives, Lewis said, is a good start.
“In a food desert like South L.A., having ready access to fruit and vegetables is a big deal,” she said. “So it’s good when you see the community try to come up with multiple strategies to do that, such as this program.”