Heights students take on food insecurity

Heights High students and MetroHealth staff preparing for a fresh-produce distribution event.

This past school year, The MetroHealth System’s School Health Program (SHP) invited students from Heights High to help develop a project to address food insecurity in the Heights community. The result is a monthly fresh-produce distribution to be held at the high school throughout the summer.

Heights High is one of three schools to participate in MetroHealth’s SHP Youth Advisory Councils (YAC) food insecurity initiatives. Cleveland Metropolitan School District’s Garrett Morgan High School and Lincoln-West School of Global Studies also unveiled projects to support their communities in late May. (Garrett Morgan hosted a resource fair, collecting shelf-stable food and personal-care items for a nearby homeless shelter, and Lincoln-West students organized the planting of apple trees at the Refuge Garden in the Clark-Fulton neighborhood.)

The Heights High YAC intends to continue its effort this summer, on the fourth Friday of the month, as part of a partnership with the Greater Cleveland Food Bank.

At the first distribution event in May, visitors began lining up before the opening time. By the end of the event, the students had distributed 4,000 pounds of food to 282 people from 71 households. This month's distribution event will take place on Friday, July 26, at 3 p.m., at the high school.

Heights High students Addie Hart and Dashara Turner were awarded the chance to present their project as part of the National School-Based Health Alliance’s (NSBHA) Be the Change Youth Training Program at the organization's annual conference in Washington, D.C., June 30 through July 2, accompanied by MetroHealth SHP staff.

Turner said she joined the Heights High YAC because she wanted to make her peers aware of the benefits of MetroHealth’s School Health Program and the Heights Wellness Center, given her own experiences with the clinic and its staff.

"I was always down at the clinic because I had a health issue, and I bonded with the nurses," said Turner, who graduated in June and plans to study psychology on a pre-med track at the University of Cincinnati. "I always felt that they knew me well and took good care of me. I have always been passionate about wanting to be a surgeon, but spending time with the MetroHealth staff this year inspired me even more."

The projects at all three high schools were funded through two grants totaling nearly $50,000 from the state and national School-Based Health Alliance and Share Our Strength's No Kid Hungry Campaign. The program was a collaboration of SHP, a program of the MetroHealth’s Institute for H.O.P.E.2TM, and the Institute's community outreach to confront social barriers to health, such as inadequate access to nutritious food.

Kristen Matlack, Community Health Advocacy Initiative manager for Institute for H.O.P.E.2TM, said the students from all three schools approached their projects with enthusiasm.

"They chose what they wanted to do, and, with guidance, they saw it through," Matlack said. "The fact that their work this year has been given this national spotlight says everything about the success of the program."

Katie Davis Bellamy, MetroHealth’s executive director, Community and Corporate Health, said the hope is to continue the YACs to provide students with other opportunities to learn about health and wellness, and explore ways to help promote those subjects and projects throughout their schools and communities.

Candace DeSantis

Candace DeSantis is a senior writer in the Department of Marketing and Communications at The MetroHealth System.

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Volume 17, Issue 7, Posted 8:36 AM, 06.26.2024