Marquette-Alger RESA gets grant for nutrition education

By LISA BOWERS

Journal Staff Writer

MARQUETTE — Making healthy food choices has been a focus in Michigan school curriculums for over a decade.

Marquette County schools, preschools and daycares are no different as they continuously strive to provide better choices to their students.

The effort just got easier, with a $100,000 grant from the Michigan Health Endowment Fund to continue the PE-Nut Expansion Project, or PEP.

Marquette-Alger Regional Educational Service Agency, the Superior Health Foundation and the Community Foundation of Marquette County collaborated in an effort to increase fruit and vegetable consumption and physical activity of students in nine local elementary schools and Early Childhood Programs in Marquette and Alger Counties, according to a press release from the community foundation.

Two initiatives of the grant include a classroom component in which trained nutrition educators will conduct nutrition lessons in kindergarten, second and fourth grades, MARESA Regional Health Coordinator Kelly Sager-Johnson said.

“We are trying to combat childhood obesity and a lack of activity,” Sager-Johnson said. “The goals of the program is to increase fruits and vegetable consumption and increase physical activity.”

She said students will receive simple and consistent messaging on nutrition to motivate both students and parents to eat healthier and be more active.

Sager-Johnson said classroom lessons are combined with healthy food tasting and easy-to-do physical activity lessons to support healthy bodies and brains.

“The lesson includes the kids helping to make a snack,” Sager-Johnson said, “and the recipe goes home with the kids.”

The MHEF grant funds are a key component of the MARESA nutrition program, Sager-Johnson said.

“Without the Michigan Health Endowment Fund, MARESA would not be able to provide programs in our schools,” she said. “This grant helps us carve out a little bit of time to focus on healthy eating and a little bit of exercise.”

The PEP program will include a new target audience of four-year-olds and their parents, the release states, along with an increased role for area grocers and produce departments and pre-schools.

The Superior Health Foundation along with the Michigan Health Endowment Fund will focus on the “Healthy Heroes” component of the grant and will distribute punch cards to 4-year-olds.

The cards entitle each child to one free fresh fruit or vegetable per month for six months at participating grocers.

Once they receive the card, families will have access to a PEP web page that links the fruit or vegetable of the month with recipes, resources and fitness/activity ideas, according to the release.

Cards will be punched for all six months and turned in for one of five “Healthy Heroes” grocery store gift certificates in the amount of $100.

Five grocers, including Tadych’s Econofoods in Marquette, Super One in Negaunee, Jubilee Foods in Ishpeming, Larry’s Foods in Gwinn and Family Fare Supermarket in Munising have committed to partnering with MARESA for the program.

Partnerships are key to the success of the program, Sager-Johnson said.

“No one organization can make a program like this happen on their own,” she said. “We all contribute with what our strengths are and we end up helping our kids, which is the goal of all those organizations.”

The goal of PEP organizers is to provide a comprehensive and replicable program for possible Upper Peninsula-wide implementation in a future round of grant funding, community foundation officials said.

The Michigan Health Endowment Fund works to improve the health and wellness of Michigan residents and reduce the cost of health care, with a special focus on children and seniors. More information about the health fund can be found at mhealthfund.com.

Lisa Bowers can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242. Her email address is lbowers@miningjournal.net.