Williamsburg Celebrates “Healthy Food, Healthy Lives”

Around 100 community members gathered at the Williamsburg Lodge for the Williamsburg Health Foundation annual awards breakfast on Thursday, September 24 to celebrate four local organizations dedicated to healthy food access. The theme for this year was “Healthy Food, Healthy Lives,” and the awards went to the Williamsburg Farmers Market, KelRae Farm, Williamsburg Area Meals on Wheels and the Peninsula Foodbank.

Two years ago, the foundation shifted its “Healthcare Heroes award” to defining health beyond traditional health care. Last year’s awards were themed “Williamsburg on the Move,” while this year’s theme highlighted fresh food access for people in need of nutritious food.

“We wanted to broaden the definition of what impacts health,” said Foundation president and chief executive officer Jeanne Zeidler. “We intend to celebrate not only the heroes who heal the sick but also the heroes who make Greater Williamsburg a healthier place in which to live and work.”

The Williamsburg Farmers Market, now in its 12th year at Merchants Square, is a half-day market on Saturdays from March through October.

“Two years ago, we started the SNAP matching program and our volume has doubled. People can also donate to the program when they use their credit cards to get tokens, and they almost always do,” said board member Michele DeWitt, while accepting the award. The $5,000 award will be donated to the School Health Initiative Program at Williamsburg-James City County Schools.

SHIP Director Amy Lazev is pleased to put the donation to a specific initiative that involves the Williamsburg Farmers Market.

“We’ve been working on this project for years, to bring Power of Produce (AKA the POP program) to Williamsburg. It’s about education on health eating and making their own choices. It’s learning in action and students will visit the market on a regular basis throughout the spring, summer and fall seasons,” Lazev said. The SHIP program is funded through a grant from the Williamsburg Health Foundation.

Many of these awarded organizations are interrelated in the community. The second award winner was KelRae Farm, which is also a vendor at the farmers market. This family-owned farm in Toano also runs a community-supported agriculture (CSA) subscription, and supplies fresh food for the Meals on Wheels program.

Meals on Wheels board chair Lois Polifka said in her acceptance speech that “70% of the meals are subsidized, but the range of people receiving a hot, nutritious meal ranges from those living in hotel rooms to those living in gated communities.”

So between growing food, preparing it, getting it donated, and delivering it, there are hundreds of volunteers involved, all aiming to serve people in need of healthy meals.

“Malnutrition is critical to avoid for older folks. Thanks to Custom Culinary Connections and KelRae farms, we are able to give them colorful and nutritious food—food they need, and food they want to eat. We’re lucky to never have to turn anyone away for lack of funds,” Polifka said.

A number of other community organizations were mentioned, including St. Bede, Community Housing Partnership, Lackey Pantry, and the United Way of Greater Williamsburg. The involved partners appear to be working hard to align local initiatives with a growing awareness of fresh food and the need for access to food that’s nutritious, not just filling.

The Peninsula Food Bank CEO Karen Joyner noted “a 30 percent increase when fresh food was added,” as well as the increased interest in lean protein such as chicken breasts. A perennial challenge for the foodbank is that often donated food that’s canned or shelf-stable is not as healthy as fresh food.

All of these organizations work together to make it fresh, delicious and nutritious, and that’s why the theme of this year’s awards was selected.

Williamsburg Health Foundation ex officio board chair Jeffery O. Smith said, “Nothing happens in isolation, all of us working together, makes sure that our community can be even more opportunities for good health. Health is important for all.”

Smith concluded the event with the call to action for attendees: “Go forth and be champions of good health!”