About 11% of Oregon’s 4.1 million residents said they faced food insecurity in 2018, similar to the U.S. average. Oregon has more than 300,0000 food insecure children, according to Oregon by the Numbers. Compounding food and nutrition issues for Yamhill County residents, approximately 20% of its children are experiencing poverty.
In order to address these disparities, Oregon State University Extension Service in Yamhill County developed a five-year Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program. The program helps to promote healthy diets and nutritional education focusing their efforts on low-income families, adult care givers, youth and school-aged children.
According to the Pew Research Center, Latino children are more likely to face food insecurity. Maria Falcon, Yamhill’s SNAP-Ed education program assistant, taught classes in English and Spanish that helped encourage parents to select more healthy foods and different meal ideas from the Food Hero recipes list. Feedback from parents participating in EFNEP, especially their sentiment that their children did not want to try new vegetables, helped establish the Yamhill County 4-H Healthy Kids Club.
The club hosts about 15 children at a time, ranging from second to seventh grade. Research shows children are more open to eating new foods if they prepare the food themselves, so in the Healthy Kids Club they are provided with cooking aprons and learn basic cooking skills, in addition to learning some physical activity exercises. One activity shows kids how much sugar is in a typical can of regular soda, with a child stating, “I learned that the drinks well, some drinks have a lot of sugar and strawberries have natural sugar.” That activity led one child to ask his parents to no longer buy soda for the household.
In 2019, nearly 150 children in Yamhill County participated in the Healthy Kids Club and nearly half of them are repeat members. Approximately 1,200 people attended outreach for all community events in 2019. High participation suggests these types of programming are valued in the community.
In 2020, Healthy Kids Club adapted in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Falcon and Mike Knutz, former Yamhill County 4-H Youth Development faculty member, transitioned to a home-cooking format to continue teaching kids and parents about the importance of a healthy lifestyles. Knutz and Falcon were also able to arrange for local grocery stores to prepare all the Food Hero recipe ingredients to allow families to receive food as curbside pickup without entering the store.
The Healthy Kids Club in Yamhill County continues to serve vulnerable communities who are in need of food assistance even through the COVID-19 pandemic because as Knutz said, “let’s find a way to bless these families.”