Events planned throughout the next month that address eating healthy and ways to provide people food

PHOTO COURTESY OF CROOK COUNTY ON THE MOVE - Elementary school students help stock the food pantry at Barnes Butte Elementary. Pictured above left to right are Mason Gattey, Abigail Gattey, Sawyer McDonald and Samantha Ramos.

Health experts have often stressed that living a healthy lifestyle requires a balanced diet of healthy foods.

It turns out, based on a recent study, that making those choices is limited by more than will power or personal food preferences. A recent study by Feeding America, a nationwide network of more than 200 food banks, identified Crook County as having the highest cost of groceries in Oregon and among the highest in the nation.

This caused Oregon Food Bank to target the community and reach out to Crook County on the Move, a recently formed community action initiative, to find ways to connect more people with healthy foods.

Crook County on the Move (CCOTM) grew from Crook County's unsuccessful bid to become a Blue Zone community. The initiative is intended to make healthy lifestyle choices easy and fun for Crook County residents, with the goal is to improve wellness in the community through a collective impact movement engaging regional organizations and community members to promote healthy activities, awareness and accessibility to simple lifestyle changes that improve overall health.

The initiative has since learned that almost one third of local children live in poverty. Also, seniors, who are more likely to have health-related food requirements, account for 25 percent of the population and may have difficulty just getting to a grocery store.

To help provide more people with healthy foods and encourage people to eat them more often, CCOTM is participating in a couple upcoming local events and has contributed to an existing school program that helps provide healthy food for children in need.

St. Charles Health System's Community Benefits program, a CCOTM partner, recently secured a $2,000 grant that benefitted Food for Kids. The program, which is operated by Barnes Butte Elementary kindergarten teacher Angelia Wagner, has served more than 130 students in past years with its weekend backpack program.

Students who do not have enough to eat over the weekend are provided a small bag of healthy foods. Food bags contain breakfast, lunch, a small dinner, and snacks.

"The Food for Kids program was selected as the grant recipient due to the overwhelming need we have in Crook County," said Donna Barnes, acting chair of CCOTM. "Food for Kids has been successful in combatting hunger for our youngest residents."

Wagner was pleased to receive the financial support.

"For many children, knowing they won't have to go without food during the weekend is a great relief," she said, "and it eases the stress and burden on where their next meal will come from."

In addition to supporting the Food for Kids program, CCOTM is helping sponsor a presentation at the weekly "What's Brewing?" community forum next week.

"Dr. Natalie Good is going to talk about how nutrition plays into no only preventing but reversing heart disease," Barnes said.

Good will specifically target plant-based diet and emphasize the importance of watching the nutritional element of your health.

"We will have some handouts there for people to take home with them," Barnes said, adding that they will provide some Food Hero cookbooks as well as some recipes courtesy of CCOTM. In addition, Good will facilitate an open discussion after concluding her presentation.

Then, on March 10, CCOTM will host a FEAST event. The Food Education Agriculture Solutions Together program, operated by the Oregon Food Bank, is inviting people throughout the community to the Crook County Library Broughton Room to brainstorm ideas and actions to ensure everyone in Crook County has access to the healthy food they need.

Kristi Hiaasen, FEAST event organizer, urges attendance.

"If we don't hear from all segments of our community we will never be able to solve the entire problem," she said. "The ideas that come out of such a gathering could be very powerful. Just imagine what we can accomplish by working together."

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