Hebni is a community-based, not for profit agency formed in 1995 to educate high-risk, culturally diverse populations about nutrition strategies to prevent diet-related diseases. Its nationally recognized nutritional programs are geared toward minority children with a focus on decreasing childhood obesity. Hebni’s Fresh Stop Bus, a mobile farmers market, received joint seed funding in 2014 from the Winter Park Health Foundation (WPHF) through its Community Health Work Group, and Florida Hospital through its Community Health Impact Council. The bus is designed to serve residents living in food deserts, where limited food choices – especially a lack of access to affordable fresh produce – can often result in poor nutrition habits as families rely on fast food or processed foods for meals and snacks. Diets high in processed foods can often lead to increased rates for diabetes, high blood pressure and other diet-related chronic diseases. The community surrounding Cheney Elementary School, generally defined as Forsyth Road, north of State Road 50 (Colonial Drive) is considered a food desert area.
A route expansion of the Fresh Stop Bus makes a lot of sense for the Cheney community, where it has the potential for a significant healthy lifestyle impact. When planning the bus route expansion to the community, WPHF and Hebni staff identified three points of impact through which the mobile farmers market could serve the community: the students, parents and staff of Cheney Elementary; the patients of the Cheney Wellness Cottage, a Federally Qualified Healthcare Center located on the school campus; and the surrounding residential community and those employed by businesses in the area. With the school serving as the hub, these groups can access fresh produce and pre-packaged healthy foods, such as freshly prepared mango salsa, at affordable prices. The bus also offers a variety of payment options including cash, credit/debit cards and Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards (formerly known as food stamps). Reports from Hebni show that all forms of payment have been used on the bus.
The Fresh Stop Bus is on the Cheney Elementary campus between 2:30 – 4 p.m. on the first three Fridays of each month. First up on the bus are the Cheney students who receive weekend meal assistance through a grant provided to Second Harvest Food Bank from WPHF. During a focus group to determine how the weekend meal program was working, the students requested that a piece or two of fresh fruit be sent home along with the other, shelf-stable items, an idea wholly embraced by the WPHF Children and Youth Work Group. As part of the planning grant, students receiving weekend meal assistance are able to select produce on the bus – all for free. In the process, students receive education from the school and Hebni staff on best choices to select based on what they can eat on their own or what their parents/caregivers might prepare at home. They also learn about the health benefits of the fruits and vegetables. Each week, the students are excited to come onto the bus and empowered to choose their fruits and vegetables. The bus also draws parents waiting to pick their children up from school. One parent, Elaine McKay, is now a regular on the bus, purchasing produce for her family every Friday. Elaine notes, “I love it. It’s convenient. The prices of the vegetables and fruit are fantastic, and it’s nice because it supports our school and gets our kids excited about fresh fruits and vegetables. She [her daughter] loves doing this – it’s exciting for her. As soon as she gets out of school she says, ‘C’mon, we gotta go to the bus!’ so we come every week.”
Cheney Elementary School Principal, Tracey Gibson, is a champion of the Fresh Stop Bus. Not only does she shop for her family’s needs on Fridays, she encourages students, parents and her staff to shop on the bus as well. Recently, she allocated remaining Healthy School Team funds to provide every faculty and staff member with $5 to shop for produce on the bus. Not only has this started conversations around healthy eating and how to prepare foods (“What do you do with an eggplant?”), but also serves to promote the bus as an easy, convenient way to shop for healthy foods. Principal Gibson believes the Fresh Stop Bus helps to promote a culture of health and wellness at the school. As Cheney Elementary 2nd grade teacher, Miranda Avis, said, “It’s affordable and I don’t have to worry about getting too much, so it won’t go bad either.”
The Fresh Stop bus is also marketed to the patients of the Cheney Wellness Cottage. True Health clinicians, operators of the Wellness Cottage, use “prescription pads” to recommend patients add fruits and vegetables into their diets, and provide a discount for the first purchase on the bus.
During the planning grant period, which will run through the summer, Hebni and partners will continue to promote the Fresh Stop Bus as a convenient and affordable way for the greater Cheney community to eat healthier.