Forty-four years ago, two innovative thinkers at the Hospital Association of Southern California established National Health Foundation to extend the impact the association could have on improving healthcare. Since then, our focus has evolved to working within the community while retaining our connection to hospitals.
Within the community our focus is on people having the opportunity to make choices that allow them to live a long, healthy life, regardless of their income, education, or ethnic background by tackling any barriers that stand in the way of them achieving their best health.
One of our areas of focus has been to increase access to healthy foods in high schools and larger communities through a process of community engagement and empowerment. We know that nutritious food is crucial for a health life free from disease and access to healthy foods is a challenge for resource-strapped families or for those who live in neighborhoods without grocers.
We led teams of high school youth in researching barriers to healthy eating. We supported the 146 students as they deployed solutions such as installing a Hydration Station in their high school providing fresh drinking water to 700 of their peers. The students went on to develop a snack sharing system that now ensures 900 students have access to healthy snacks throughout the day while dramatically reducing food waste. The students then took their vision into the community and partnered with local agencies to ensure 3,000 South Los Angeles residents now have access to fresh produce choices through 2 local market make overs.
While the current focus of these programs is in neighborhoods in South Los Angeles, each of the solutions is scalable and replicable. In fact, the snack sharing program is being considered for county-wide adoption.
Of course, there are the immeasurable benefits of an engaged community. When more than 600 community members provided input for these efforts and youth engaged in 32 advocacy meetings to carry those messages to leaders and decision makers in South Los Angeles or when 6,000 community members participated in 180 nutrition and food education demonstrations there was a ripple out effect. The conversations around the dinner table are changing as much as the meals being served, “I always show my parents the healthy food recipes I get from Health Academy, and we’ve started making them at home,” shared student participant Aracely Ortiz.