SCRANTON — Alan Silva isn’t the biggest fan of vegetables, but that might change with the pile of free produce his mom took home Saturday from a Healthy Food Festival in the city.
The 10-year-old, his baby sister, Aitana Silva, and his mother, Katrina Marrero, of Scranton, along with her 8-year-old cousin, Eidan Eusebio, were among more than 100 families in the Scranton School District to attend the festival hosted by Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine. Featuring 15 activity stations where kids and their parents learned about nutrition and making healthy food choices, the event was part of an ongoing effort by various educational institutions to address food insecurity in the area and make local neighborhoods “hunger-free zones.”
Alan said he specifically learned to read juice labels and make sure he’s drinking 100 percent juice, as opposed to more sugary juice blends.
“We pay more attention to the routine maintenance of automobiles than we do to our bodies,” said Scott Koerwer, vice dean of graduate studies at the medical school. “It’s also easier to access inexpensive fast food than it is to access healthy, nutritious food, so that’s what this is about.”
Students from the medical school, Wilkes University, Marywood University, Keystone College, Lackawanna College and the Philadelphia-based University of the Sciences joined a host of community partners to put on the festival, with students running stations where children tried healthy treats and played nutrition-oriented games.
Brian Ebersole, senior director of Geisinger’s Springboard Healthy Scranton program, an initiative aimed at improving the health of the community, said events like Saturday’s do just that.
“It’s really about how do we educate the students who are part of the fabric of our community about some of those social health issues that are happening,” Ebersole said. “How do we help them understand and how do we … teach them to communicate what those healthy options are and how families use them.”
Every family that attended the festival took home a bag stuffed with carrots, canned vegetables, granola bars, beans, potatoes and other nutritious food options. Organizers prepared free food bags for 175 families, and provided recipes and other resources to teach them how to incorporate the ingredients into healthy meals.
That educational element is key, said Mike Hauser, director of Here for a Reason, an organization that among other things packages food for children at risk of food insecurity.
“The goal of this … was to give both families and children a foundation by which to make good choices, because those foundational areas are what sets them up for success their entire lives,” he said.
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