HOUSTON, Sept. 16, 2020 /PRNewswire/ -- Rice Management Company (RMC), the developer of The Ion and Innovation District in Houston, announced today a multi-year partnership with Houston-based nonprofit Brighter Bites to increase access to healthy and affordable foods in neighborhoods near the Innovation District.
To start, RMC and Brighter Bites are supporting students at Blackshear Elementary School in the Third Ward by serving approximately 100,000 pounds of fresh produce to 375 underserved families during the school year.
Residents in the Third Ward have faced barriers to accessing high-quality, nutritious food for years. Currently, more than half of residents in the area struggle with food insecurity, which is more than four times the national average of 11.8%.*
"I am extremely excited about this partnership primarily because it supports the children in my district, and they are able to have access to produce that will help them receive the nutrition they need to grow and be healthy," said Councilmember Carolyn Evans-Shabazz. "It also supports community-based organizations that are addressing food access in areas that are food insecure."
"The goal with this partnership is two-fold: To ensure immediate and consistent access to healthy food for Houstonians who live in nearby areas facing food access challenges, especially during a pandemic, and to provide long-term solutions that will strengthen communities and make them sustainable, healthy and resilient," said Sam Dike, manager of Strategic Initiatives at RMC.
Brighter Bites' evidence-based program incorporates produce distribution, nutrition education and fun food experiences to change eating behaviors and prevent obesity and to achieve long-term health. Over the 2019-2020 school year, 99% of parents reported their family ate more fruits and vegetables while participating in Brighter Bites, and 97% maintained increased consumption after the program ended.
"We all know that a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables is essential to health, but for far too many residents in the Third Ward the ability to maintain a healthy diet is hindered by barriers to accessing high-quality, nutritious food," said Rich Dachman, Brighter Bites CEO. "Brighter Bites commends Rice Management Company for their thoughtful leadership and sincere commitment to addressing this issue, and we are excited to work alongside them in expanding access to fresh produce and nutrition education to Third Ward families who need it most."
At Blackshear Elementary, more than 80% of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. With RMC's support, every family enrolled receives about 60 servings, or 25 pounds, of fresh produce every two weeks. Families receive printed and digital nutrition handbooks, tip sheets and recipes for capacity building, and complete pre- and post-program surveys for data collection. Brighter Bites is working closely with Blackshear Elementary Principal Alicia Lewis, teachers and administrators to implement a health curriculum and virtual lessons about healthy eating for their students.
Beyond the partnership with Brighter Bites, RMC is exploring other ways to provide immediate access to fresh produce, such as expanding and supporting community gardens in the area, while delivering resources and training to address chronic food insecurity.
"I am ecstatic about this partnership and what it means for the neighborhood. The foundation of a healthy community is good nutrition, and this reflects Rice Management Company's commitment to strengthen the community," said Kirk Jackson, M.S., a board member of Blodgett Urban Gardens and long-time community activist. "Our collective purpose is to make sure no one goes hungry. Whether that's through fresh produce, gardening or nutrition education, we're giving our neighbors the tools they need to make healthier choices and improve their overall quality of life."
RMC is developing the Innovation District to be a vibrant and collaborative place for all Houstonians. For three years, Rice University's Multicultural Community Relations team has organized activities for Blackshear students, including college readiness programs and music enrichment opportunities. The Ion team is also developing a variety of STEM-related programming for K-12 students.
"One of our reasons for existing is to provide tools and education to help our community succeed," said Jan E. Odegard, Interim Executive Director of The Ion, the 300,000 square foot, mixed-use space that anchors the Innovation District. "For our programs to be sustainable, we need an engaged and healthy – literally and figuratively – pipeline of talented young professionals. That starts with making sure families can provide kids with consistent access to nutritious and high-quality meals."
*Baker Institute and Sankofa Research Institute's Third Ward Needs Assessment.
About Brighter Bites
Brighter Bites is a nonprofit that creates communities of health through fresh food with the goal of changing behavior among children and their families to prevent obesity and achieve long-term health. Brighter Bites is an evidence-based, multi-component elementary school, preschool, and summer camp program that utilizes reliable access to fruits and vegetables, nutrition education, and consistent exposure to recipes and messages that feature fresh food. Since 2012, Brighter Bites has provided more than 38 million pounds of produce and millions of nutrition education materials to more than 475,000 individuals (including teachers) in Houston, Dallas, Austin, New York City, the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan area, and Southwest Florida. To learn more about Brighter Bites visit www.brighterbites.org.
About the Innovation District
Houston's 16-acre Innovation District is destined to become the epicenter for the city's innovation ecosystem as an inclusive, dynamic, vibrant and dense hub focused on quality collaborations between entrepreneurs, incubators, accelerators, corporations, academics and the Houston community. It is anchored by The Ion, a 300,000 square-foot building that will accommodate multiple uses, including office and coworking space, prototyping and maker resources, event space, classrooms, food and beverage offerings as well as indoor/outdoor communal areas with shared amenities. The building is scheduled to open in 2021. For more information, please visit: https://www.houinnovate.com/.