When she received the call yesterday afternoon, Aida Martinez couldn’t believe her own ears. State Senator Pedro Espada Jr. was calling the Davidson Community Center chairwoman in person, to announce that a $200,000 grant would be delivered this week to improve nutrition conditions in the Bronx. Excellent news for a borough that was recently ranked as the least healthy county in the state.
“We pay now with money, or we pay later with diabetes, obesity, cholesterol and cardiovascular diseases,” the senator said in front of a crowd of 50 people from the neighborhood.
As the founder of the Soundview Health Network, Senator Espada says he has been aware of the health problems in the Bronx for several years. “We know the challenge,” he said. “The Bronx is the obesity capital of America, the asthma capital of America, and many other titles that we don’t want anymore.”
The Davidson Community Center had been applying for a grant for five years. “We haven’t worked out all the specifics yet, but what we know so far is that we are going to use the money to buy a van so we can distribute food in various places, like senior residences, health centers and schools,” said Angel Caballero, executive director of the community center.
The money will be used to distribute free fruits and vegetables to residents in need but, more importantly, to organize healthy nutrition workshops. “We want to show people that they can keep eating what they eat but that with slightly different methods of cooking, it can be better for their health,” Martinez said. The workshops will be organized weekly, in Spanish and in English, and will include ethnic recipes, “so nobody is excluded,” she said.
According to a survey released at the beginning of this month, the 16th Congressional District in the Bronx , encompassing several South Bronx neighborhoods, has the highest hunger rate of the United State. In the survey, 36 percent of the residents said they did not have enough money to buy food in the last year.
“The situation has been getting worse and worse lately,” Martinez said. She explained that the group used to be able to put together three food distributions per week; but last year, because of the recession, it barely made it once a week. “Last week, we received two bags of potatoes, two bags of onions and a box of apples. What can we do with that?” she said. This scarcity made residents lose faith in the community center, she said.
While in previous years the center was able to serve more than 300 families a week, fewer than 50 families a week received free food in the last couple of months. “And it’s really hard, you know, to have people come ask for food and not be able to give them any,” Martinez said.
She claimed that the $200,000 could potentially benefit close to 10,000 people in one year, depending on their needs. “We are confident that this initiative is also going to encourage business owners to give us more food as well and participate in this effort to create a healthier Bronx,” said Angel Caballero, of the community center. “It’s about creating a positive dynamic in the neighborhood, and this money is going to help us do that. We gotta stick together!”