Urban Alliance

A Wellspring of Hope in Hartford's Food Desert

Article and photos by Sarah Thompson, Director of Communications & Volunteer Mobilization

With five children and another one on the way, Shavonne knows the importance of providing healthy foods for her family. As vegans, she and her husband incorporate many fruits and vegetables into their meals, placing a high value on buying local produce. But, it isn’t always easy. And, her experience is all too familiar throughout Hartford.

“You need fresh food to stay healthy,” explained fellow Hartford resident Marcia. “So many of us are on medications and it’s important for us to eat healthy.”

Yet, Hartford is home to only one supermarket in its 18 square miles. And, because at least a fifth of Hartford residents live in poverty and a third live more than a mile from a supermarket, accessing fresh fruits and vegetables—which are essential to maintaining a nutritious diet and preventing adverse health conditions like diabetes and heart disease—is especially challenging.

Urban Alliance is helping break down some of these barriers, through its Revitalize initiative, which helps churches and ministry organizations reach and serve people who are struggling to care for their physical health needs so that they are able to experience and maintain a lifestyle of wellness.

One expression of this is the Revitalize Community Health Outreach, a concentrated effort to get information about free and low-cost health services and incentives into the hands of tens of thousands of Hartford residents each year. Hundreds of volunteers from local churches and ministry organizations distribute Revitalize health resource bags in a collaborative, one-day, door-to-door effort, in addition to bags that are handed out at schools, community organizations and events.

The bright green bags include a health resource booklet developed by Urban Alliance that includes a helpful guide about health care coverage, health services and local farmers markets, information which is also located on RevitalizeHartford.com, a site developed and updated by Urban Alliance throughout the year with information about additional resources and services in the city.

Also in each bag is a coupon that can be redeemed for $5 in fresh produce at the North End, West End and, newly added as a Revitalize coupon redemption site this year, the Billings Forge Hartford farmers markets. Between the three markets, 1,101 coupons were redeemed, providing Hartford residents with $5,505 in fresh fruits and vegetables. 

Billing's Forge farmers market manager, Jocelyn Cerda shared, "I definitely believe that Revitalize was beneficial to both Billings Forge and the community, it is a magnificent program. The coupon helped bring brand new people to the market, provide food access, and promote healthy eating. I hope we can be part of Revitalize next year."

Both Shavonne and Marcia each received one of 14,000 coupons that were distributed this year. 

“We run out of money all the time, and produce is always most expensive,” shared Shavonne. “The coupon really helps because we love supporting our farmers markets but sometimes we can’t afford to. We’re learning that local produce is better for you than the produce they import. It is healthier. If it’s local it’s better.”

“I look forward to the farmers market because everything is fresh,” said Marcia. “I tried to get my family to eat healthier since last year when I starting coming. Even my grandson, who was a ‘fast foodie’ is not anymore. I make fried green tomatoes, dinosaur kale, and a lot of fruits and vegetables that we never had before I incorporated into our food.”

Shavonne, Marcia and their families face unique challenges to maintaining healthy lifestyles simply due to living in a city that is deemed a food desert, or an urban area in which it is difficult to buy affordable or good-quality fresh food. But, with the help and support of hundreds of people in and around Hartford, a wellspring of hope is taking shape.

Click here to learn more about Urban Alliance’s Revitalize initiative or click here to donate to Revitalize.

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