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Entrepreneurs tackle childhood obesity with 10,000 healthy lunches a day

Propeller: A Force for Social Innovation is a non-profit organization that helps local entrepreneurs launch sustainable ventures that use business principles to tackle social problems.

According to data from Propeller: A Force for Innovation, 36 percent of 10- to 17-year-olds are overweight, with low-income and minority children being affected the most. They, along with partners Revolution Foods and KIPP New Orleans Schools, have launched School Food Authority (SFA) in an effort to fight childhood obesity in the area and, hopefully, create a model that can be implemented beyond the region. The program, which is led by Propeller social entrepreneur James Graham, will be delivering more than 10,000 healthy school lunches per day to students at 28 New Orleans and Baton Rouge public schools beginning this school year.

The lunches comply with a set of healthy food standards set by Popeller, meaning that none of the items is fried, and contains no high-fructose corn syrup, canned fruits or vegetables, or nitrates or hormones in meat. Everything is prepared from scratch and contains a fresh fruit and vegetable with each meal. In addition, 5 percent of the food must be locally procured. The 28 participating charter schools and the four participating food vendors have contractually committed to conform to these standards.

Healthy food vendor Revolution Foods was recruited to New Orleans, and Propeller provided the seed funding necessary to launch the KIPP New Orleans Schools healthy lunch initiative. Propeller is providing more than $190,000 in grant funding for schools to transition to a healthy food vendor through the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Irene W. and C.B. Pennington Foundation, and Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools.

“One of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s (WKKF) core beliefs is that all people – particularly vulnerable children – deserve access to good food,” said William Buster, program officer at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, a key supporter of Propeller. “Schools are public tables from which 30 million children eat up to two-thirds of their meals. Improving the nutritional quality of the food we serve our children at school directly impacts their health and well-being and that’s why we are supporting this very important work.”

The partner vendors include Chartwells, Liberty’s Kitchen, Revolution Foods, and Sodexo, who have all committed to complying with the standards set by Propeller. In addition, Propeller has partnered with The Louisiana Public Health Institute’s (LPHI) School Health Connection program and the Tulane Prevention Research Center in order to monitor food quality, student participation, and student behaviors and attitudes in the program.

While the program is focused on New Orleans and Baton Rouge area school children, the initiative is multi-fold, benefitting local farmers as well.

“Our schools, students, and families told us they wanted a healthier, higher-quality school lunch, and we are thrilled that in our first year we will bring the healthy school lunch program to 20 percent of New Orleans public school students,” explained Andrea Chen, executive director at Propeller. “We have changed the school food contracting process to tackle Louisiana’s obesity epidemic as children from high-poverty backgrounds typically consume the majority of their calories at school. In addition, this is a significant economic opportunity for our local farmers since vendors are required to buy local as part of the Healthy Foods RFP, and it has previously been almost impossible for small farmers to crack the farm-to-school market.”

The initiative has been three years in the making with Propeller, Revolution Foods, and ley stakeholders throughout the region.  According to Revolution Foods CEO Kristin Richmond, the program has kicked off successfully. She added that the most encouraging feedback she has received came from Batiste teachers who said that students were feeling more full after lunch and more attentive in class since the program’s inception.

Richmond adds, “Seeing positive student outcomes linked to our program is our most important goal in our work.”

Adriana Lopez writes about the entrepreneurial community for NolaVie and Silicon Bayou News. She also showcases local start-ups through her non-profit organization GenNOLA.


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