Bringing Fresh Produce to DC Schools

I met Emanuel Reid while volunteering at Martha’s Table — a Washington, D.C. nonprofit that supports families in need with food, education, clothing, and other services. Emanuel serves as a community liaison in AmeriCorps’ Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) program in Northeast DC in partnership with George Washington University. As a community liaison, Emanuel fosters community partnerships between DC schools and community organizations. Emanuel works with five other AmeriCorps VISTA community liaisons, but he is responsible for cultivating partnerships on behalf of Charles Drew Elementary School in the Northeast quadrant.

Emanuel was born in Johnson City, Tennessee. His mother was a school teacher and taught him from an early age that it is important to give back to your community. After Emanuel graduated from Johnston C. Smith University in Charlotte, North Carolina, he worked in community service, local politics, and at the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce. During his time at the Chamber, Emanuel learned important skills in engaging with the business community that have empowered him in his current capacity. Emanuel always wanted to live in Washington, D.C. because it is the ground-zero of the political and NGO work. He learned about AmeriCorps and joined the VISTA program where he saw firsthand how a national service organization like AmeriCorps and an educational institution like George Washington University engage with the needs of the community.

Emanuel believes that studying and discussing societal issues only takes you so far. He believes that the perspective one gains from actually engaging in community building is a vital skill for any budding public servant. Emanuel’s work in cultivating community partnerships results in providing D.C. schoolchildren with access to food, as well as opportunities to improve their reading skills, express themselves through art, and receive mentorship. Emanuel’s outreach related to food centers around a joint-program between Martha’s Table and the Capital Area Food Bank known as the Joyful Food Market. This program serves 30 D.C.-area schools by providing each child with 23 pounds of healthy food every month. At Charles Drew Elementary School, where Emanuel works, the two nonprofits host a market at the school gymnasium every third Wednesday of the month. In addition to providing children with healthy food, Martha’s Table provides a chef on-site who teaches children and parents how to prepare tasty, healthy meals with fresh, healthy ingredients. Emanuel points out that many of these children and parents do not have much exposure to cooking with fresh ingredients because they have lived in food deserts, and that these cooking demonstrations and opportunities to sample new foods are popular among the market’s young visitors.

Food deserts are defined by the USDA as “neighborhoods that lack healthy food sources. The prevalence of food deserts across the United States has been an issue gaining increasing attention, and was a focus of former First Lady Michelle Obama’s anti-obesity cause. Nevertheless, lawmakers at every level of government struggle to reach adequate solutions to this pressing problem. Factors that create food deserts, according to the USDA Economic Research Service, include:

  • Accessibility to sources of healthy food, as measured by distance to a store or by the number of stores in an area.
  • Individual-level resources that may affect accessibility, such as family income or vehicle availability.
  • Neighborhood-level indicators of resources, such as the average income of the neighborhood and the availability of public transportation.

Food deserts are associated with obesity, heart disease, and poor academic performance. The USDA’s Food Access Research Atlas provides maps of current trends in food access across the United States.

The Joyful Food Market measures its effectiveness in a variety of ways. It strives to meet its goal of providing each child with 23 pounds of food per month for the benefit of the children and their families. The Program also reflects on the following questions in order to make the program more effective: (1) Do the families like the foods they are receiving? (2) Why won’t some families come to the market? (3) Is the program maintaining its goal of being health-conscious?

Emanuel wants people to know that in particular neighborhoods of Northeast D.C. as well many communities across the United States, there are not a lot of healthy options while unhealthy, inexpensive sources of food are plentiful. Emanuel’s work is key to combating the prevalence of food deserts, and it’s critical that programs such as the Joyful Food Market expand and serve as many children and families in need as possible.

Special thanks to Emanuel Reid for his time, to George Washington University for their guidance and support, and to Martha’s Table for the photographs.