Through a new program at the East Texas Food Bank, a dozen Tyler ISD Head Start families are receiving nutritional food and gaining skills to become healthier. 

The program is modeled after the food bank’s Partners in Health initiative, which works with clinics to screen patients for food insecurity. With this program, the clients are Head Start families instead of clinic patients. 

Kinsey Jeffers, East Texas Food Bank nutrition education program manager, said the six-week program for Head Start families features drive-thru boxes of healthy food items and nutrition education videos each week. 

This week is the fifth out of the total six-week project. 

The pilot initiative began with Head Start families being surveyed to determine if they are facing food insecurity, and 12 families were selected. The food bank collaborated with the Smith County Food Security Council for the program. 

One of the pilot program participants, Eloise Ghrist, said one of her children, Sam, 4, is in Tyler ISD’s Head Start and recalled how thoughtful the program sounded. 

She and her husband are also the parents of Owen, 9, Henry, 6, and 3-week-old Charlotte. 

“That’s kind of nice timing with having a newborn coming and right around the holidays, just have a little extra food on hand,” Ghrist said.  “You just never know what 2020 is going to bring. Although my husband has a nice job, it’s not guaranteed.”

Ghrist said the year has presented her family of six with isolation, loneliness, and the challenges of virtual learning and being pregnant. 

Prior to the program, she said the family would often talk about healthy foods, but becoming participants has added to the discussion. 

“It’s been good just to have good conversation about that (nutrition),” she said. 

Her advice to other families is: “it wouldn’t hurt to reach out.” This program was the first time the Ghrist family received food assistance of any kind. 

“We’ve been very blessed to not necessarily need it. It’s nice to know what’s available,” she said. “I think it’s a really great partnership with Head Start. It’s a perfect union. It’s great especially with what 2020 has been to have that extra stability or security.”

Jeffers said the program serves a dual purpose of feeding and education. In East Texas, one in three children are facing hunger. 

She said the families will receive a certificate of completion and complete a post-program survey.

“I think it’s been to those who have been coming,” Jeffers said. “I think we figure out a little more on the outcomes once we do the final survey at the end.”

In the past, Jeffers said she’s seen people participating in other nutrition education programs eat more whole grain foods, read the nutrition facts labels on the food boxes and get their kids involved in cooking.

“We’ll probably only offer this program once for these participants, but in our nutrition education program we offer nutrition and cooking classes so these participants would definitely be welcome to join any other programs that we have,” Jeffers said. 

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