Potato chip companies are not in any imminent danger.
But plums, peppers and blueberries are making inroads, according to our unscientific survey of kids visiting the Community Soup Kitchen & Outreach Center on Wednesday.
Some 80 disadvantaged pre-schoolers from the Morristown Neighborhood House and St. Peter’s Bilingual Summer Camp were given a lesson in healthy eating, courtesy of the Morristown soup kitchen and the Walmart Foundation.
The megastore chain has donated $30,000 to the soup kitchen, which is using the money to expand its healthy food program.
“It’s really, really difficult for poor families to get fresh produce. They can’t afford it on food stamps or low incomes,” said Terry Connolly, executive director of the soup kitchen.
“One of the soup kitchen’s goals is getting healthy, fresh food into the community, to children and low-income families.”
Unhealthy diets get much of the blame for childhood obesity and the health problems that travel with it. One in three children in America is overweight or obese, according to the soup kitchen.
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Plums, peppers and blueberries weren’t the only things on Wednesday’s menu. Children were treated to fresh peaches, strawberries, carrots, broccoli and celery, in addition to chicken burritos, yogurt and juice.
The hope was that kids would find some of these offerings to their liking, and bring back their parents.
On Mondays and Fridays for the last two years, the soup kitchen has given away unsold fresh food from farmers markets, Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods stores. The food is distributed after the noontime meal for soup kitchen patrons at the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer on South Street.
The program expanded this summer to Thursday afternoons at nearby St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, where low-income families from the Principe de Paz congregation participate in St. Peter’s new bi-lingual camp for children.
“It’s a food store where everything is free, for anyone in need. No questions asked,” said Julie Hess of the soup kitchen.
That’s good news for cash-strapped families of preschoolers at the Neighborhood House, said preschool Director Dayjahnae Rogers-Martin.
“Basically, it boils down to how far a dollar will stretch,” she said. “Fresh food’s expensive.”
Dee Klikier, who runs the summer camp at St. Peter’s, said parents there appreciate the benefits of healthy eating. “But this will reinforce it,” she said.
Walmart has pledged $2 billion through 2015 to combat hunger.
“We’re trying to do what we can,” Al Albers, manager of the Walmart store in Riverdale, said as the colorful, exuberant scene at Redeemer swirled around him.
The children left with Walmart goodie bags packed with granola bars, nuts, raisins and apple sauce, after chowing down on meals served by volunteers from Temple Shalom in Roxbury. Volunteers also included Leena Waite from America’s Grow a Row, an organization that distributes surplus food from farms.
Between courses, Marely Osorio, 5, created an artistic depiction of fresh produce with crayons and a paper plate.
Although she would choose potato chips in most snack comparisons, she allowed that blueberries might be an exception.
Chris Lopez, 7, said the peppers and peaches were too spicy for his tastes. Plums, they were another matter entirely.
“I love the plum,” he said. “It tastes like apples!”