By Judy Sheridan
The Long Live Parker County Coalition met recently to listen to the efforts of a grant team charged with appropriating a $420,000 annual state grant — up to five years — awarded to Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Azle to improve the health of residents of Parker and Hood counties.
The grant was handed down from the Center for Disease Control with a goal of impacting the amount of chronic disease nationwide.
In Texas, the grant is called Transforming Texas. Its three initiatives are making fresh produce more available, affordable and accessible to outlying areas; encouraging businesses to adopt smoke-free policies and focusing on chronic disease itself by offering chronic disease self-management workshops.
Members of the Texas Health Resources grant team include Casey Williams, heading up smoke-free initiatives; Debbie Reid, focusing on community gardens and chronic disease; Melanie Nieswiadomy, leading efforts to develop farmers’ markets and community food hubs; Jennifer Ashley-Beck, working to boost produce in convenience stores, as well as developing farmers’ markets; and Heather Bailey, in charge of chronic disease self-management workshops.
Ashley-Beck said she is working to enable mom-and-pop convenience stores in outlying areas to provide fresh produce for their customers. In Tolar and Lipan, she said, the closest grocery stores for some are up to 20 miles away.
“We are also looking for places in Parker County that might be willing to form a group,” she said. “Convenience stores don’t have the ability to buy in bulk with produce. To make a profit they have to mark it up, and a lot of people are not going to buy it. Then it’s spoiling, and the convenience stores are losing money on it, so they’re not purchasing it.
“If we can create a group that can buy in bulk and distribute that across the five or six of them, they can sell it for less, and they’re making that produce available.”
Granbury and Hood County don’t appear to have as many farmers’ markets as Parker County, she said, which has markets in Weatherford, Annetta and Aledo.
Nieswiadomy, who said she has developed relationships in Hood County during the past year, said the team will host a town hall meeting in Tolar next week to attract the attention of farmers and spark community interest.
The team also hopes to connect with schools districts and supporting clubs, Ashley-Beck added, to try to get healthy options included at the concession stands serving athletic events.
Nieswiadomy said the team has created a produce bag with an assortment of 20 fruits and vegetables that is available to anyone in the community for $5, about half the price one might pay at a grocery store.
“We’ve been successful in setting up a food hub in Azle on the second Saturday of the month,” she said. “Recently, we sold over 20 bags in under an hour. The Azle Lions’ Club did everything: they manned it and sold it.”
Nieswiadomy said the team had also worked with Poolville ISD, Agnes Baptist Church and Poolville United Methodist church on the food hub concept, meant to become sustainable.
“We’re really wanting to grasp that attention and that connection with the community, where it can be that they own it, whether it’s a church or a volunteer organization,” she said.
“That’s the way we’ve been working with Poolville. They’re providing it as a supplement to their backpack program, and in Agnes, the pastor likes to provide it to his congregation on Wednesday nights. He orders 30 bags and sells it back to his congregation.
“We’re doing two things,” Poolville United Methodist Church Pastor Dave Goodrich offered. “We’re selling them to teachers in the Poolville ISD, and then if any are not snatched up, we sell them in the parking lot when school lets out.”
“Ideally, we look for organizations in each city in Parker and Hood County to take on the initiative,” Nieswiadomy said. “We’re getting a lot of bites in Azle. In fact, we’re looking at two food hubs coming.”
She has met with Azle High School officials, she said, and has contact information for Weatherford High School.
Williams said the team has talked with Center of Hope about staging a food hub on the weeks the Center doesn’t do their food program.
“The challenge we find with working with the organizations that give out food,” Ashley-Beck said, “is that if they work with us, they have to sell it, and their clientele is not prepared to pay for it.”
Business luncheon May 13
Willams has scheduled a free noon to 1 p.m. luncheon May 13 for all interested business owners, she said, to explain the benefits of adopting a smoke-free policy and clarify the rumor that going smoke-free hurts businesses.
The grant will pay for signs denoting smoke-free buildings, she said, and might be able to assist with policy writing efforts.
The deadline for reservations for the luncheon, to be made by emailing CaseyWilliams@Texas Health.org, is May 6.
Williams also said speaker Patrick Reynolds might give a related presentation in Weatherford in September.
Reid said two potential community gardens are in process, one in Azle, near the Azle Library on Main Street, and one at Weatherford Christian School.
“The one in Azle has come quite a ways,” she said.
Reid said the garden would be member-driven, and the maximum amount for a plot would be about $25 per year.
The grant will furnish materials— mulch, seed and soil — but no labor, she said.
Williams said the group has a Facebook page, www.facebook.com/LongLiveParkerCounty, as well as a separate Long Live Parker County website anyone can access.
Reporter Judy Sheridan is a member of The Long Live Parker County Coalition.