Six North Texas School Districts Host Free Produce Program

The nonprofit Brighter Bites partners with elementary schools to change eating patterns

NBCUniversal, Inc.

A nonprofit that teaches kids and families in North Texas to eat more produce has found itself fighting hunger during the pandemic. The organization's goal to improve health through free produce has become even more important.

"Over the summer, when the need was so great, we saw a 2,000% increase in our services," said Meredith Spence, senior director of strategy for Brighter Bites. "We were having mass distributions targeting our Brighter Bites families but also opened it up to full communities."

Spence said the Houston-based group distributed 8 million pounds of produce throughout its small nationwide network during those busy summer months.

"Now, especially more than ever, families are really in need of immune-boosting produce they had come to rely on," Spence said.

Brighter Bites is a nonprofit that is changing behavior among children and their families to improve long-term health outcomes by providing free fresh produce, nutrition education and a fun food experience. The produce comes from partner agencies like the North Texas Food Bank, Freshpoint and Taylor Farms in Dallas.

The organization works with elementary schools in cities around the country. Dallas ISD got connected in 2014. Twenty-four elementary schools in Carrollton-Farmers Branch, Dallas, Garland, Mesquite, Plano and Richardson ISDs are part of the Brighter Bites network this school year.

Families get a weekly box of fresh produce for free. Teachers teach nutrition education lessons throughout the school year. And parents get access to nutrition education resources through an app and social media platforms with recipes, tip sheets and how-tos.

The pandemic put normal face-to-face engagement on hold, but the goal of Brighter Bites is the same.

"We give them the produce. We give them the nutrition education materials and resources and we see positive behavior change," Spence said.

Brighter Bites partnered with the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston to capture data about the program's impact.

"We have lots of data that shows they are eating more fresh produce at home together. They are cooking from scratch more frequently, serving fresh fruits and vegetables as snacks when previously they hadn't. consuming less sugars and using nutrition labels to inform their grocery purchasing decisions," Spence said.

"What's really cool is that we've done a two-year longitudinal study that shows after the program has concluded, two years later, families are still consuming 29 additional servings from a baseline of pretty close to zero."

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