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McGovern: Use schools to promote better nutrition

ORANGE — Organizations looking to promote better nutrition in their communities should send their messages through local schools, U.S. Rep James McGovern told members of the North Quabbin Community Coalition Friday.

McGovern, a Democrat from Worcester and staunch anti-hunger advocate, said it’s unlikely Congress will approve any increases to programs like the “food stamp” Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Instead, he said, local organizations should continue to collaborate and use the schools to promote healthier eating and better access to food.

“Kids ought to get extra credit if they bring their families to a farmers market,” said McGovern, the congressman representing the Second Congressional District, which includes Greenfield and many southern and eastern Franklin County towns. Children can often change bad habits that have formed in the home, he said, and schools should step up how often it teaches or hands out information about nutrition and access to affordable food.

“When people have limited amounts of resources to buy groceries, they buy what they need to keep their kids’ bellies filled,” he said. “And sometimes those choices are not good choices.”

The North Quabbin Community Coalition’s recent food survey of 340 North Quabbin residents supports McGovern’s remarks. It found that the region’s poorest residents ate fewer vegetables and self-identified as being in “poor” or “fair” health condition.

It also found that 33 percent of respondents travel over 15 miles to access their main source of food. Many said they travel this far because these stores had better selection and cheaper prices — although actual savings may be negligible, especially when factoring in travel costs, said Kirby Lecy, the coalition’s project manager.

Lecy said Friday that she hopes the survey data, which will be available on the coalition’s website, will help organizations apply for, and secure, grants to improve access to food.

There also needs to be better collaboration and communication among local groups, members said. Survey respondents said there weren’t local farmers markets, although at least four North Quabbin towns routinely offer them each summer, said Lecy.

McGovern, who fought vigorously against recent Republican attempts in Congress to cut SNAP food stamp benefits for the poor, invited the coalition to send him any future plans and let him know how he can help going forward.

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