News & Events

Food Policy Council grows from partnership

March 22, 2011

Arthur Lerner, Executive Director of Food: Resources, Education, Security, Health (FRESH) New London, has spent countless hours fighting to improve the community’s access to healthy food.

He gained some firepower Monday when some of the region’s most influential organizations announced a collaboration to fight hunger and obesity, two of the region’s most pressing issues.

“I am very excited to be a part of this,” Mr. Lerner said, citing the many “decision-makers” who attended a press conference Monday at the Gemma E. Moran United Way Food Center in New London to announce the region’s formation of a Food Policy Council.

Those “decision makers” included United Way of Southeastern Connecticut, Backus Hospital,  Lawrence & Memorial Hospital, FRESH New London and Thames Valley Council for Community Action, school systems and Congressman Joe Courtney, all of whom vowed to pursue long-term and sustainable solutions to the region’s obesity epidemic.

“Today is a celebration of partnerships,” said Keith Fontaine, Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer at Backus. “Working together, partners can tackle large-scale problems — and create solutions that drive fundamental improvements.”

Food policy councils are strategic partnerships that seek to make sustainable change in the community’s nutrition. Instead of investing in a program that might last a year or some other limited time frame, they focus on long-range solutions that ran range from food labels in stores to healthy school lunches and community gardens. They seek sufficient funding and provide real tools for lasting change.

A recent health needs assessment by Backus Hospital identified obesity as one of the major health issues eastern Connecticut faces. United Way President and Chief Executive Officer Virginia Mason said her organization has noticed a marked increase in the numbers of people accessing food distribution centers in the region, including a large number of working poor.

While people don’t usually equate poverty and hunger with obesity, there is a correlation. Sheryl Torr-Brown, a United Way consultant, said when families spend their time worrying about whether they will eat, and not what they are eating, a lack of proper nutrition can lead to obesity. For example, food pantries may have an overabundance of less than nutritious food, or access to healthy food can be limited to a variety of issues, such as transportation.

“With collaboration and partnership like we have here, anything can happen,” Ms. Mason said. “The real story is just beginning.”

TVCCA Executive Director Deborah Monahan said her organization helps distribute more than 3,000 healthy meals daily, but more must be done.

“We recognize that while we are able to reach some of the targeted groups, there are still many groups that are at risk because of the current economic environment,” Ms. Monahan said. “We all have to work together to make our community better – better informed, healthier and more fit.”

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To view a photo gallery of the event, click here.