United Way of Southeastern Connecticut is taking another step into tackling social problems directly, forming a partnership to promote better eating.
United Way, traditionally a money-raising arm for social services agencies, is forming a food policy council in conjunction with The William W. Backus Hospital in Norwich and Thames Valley Council for Community Action Inc., United Way President and CEO Virginia Mason said Wednesday.
The council wants to tackle what Mason calls the “perverse” relationship between hunger and obesity.
“The problem is that we’re not eating the right things,” she said. “I encountered a recent case of a poor family where one child was basically living on soda.”
Mason complimented first lady Michelle Obama’s recent calls for better nutrition, and plans by Wal-Mart, the nation’s largest grocer and retailer, to stock more fruits and vegetables in its stores, especially those in poor areas.
Mason announced the new partnership Wednesday during a Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments meeting in Norwich. The food group will be closely connected with Gemma E. Moran United Way/Labor Food Center in New London, she said. The center ranks the food it distributes by nutritional value, something Mason hopes will catch on statewide.
“This state doesn’t have a lot of food policy options,” she said.
Among those helping formulate the idea for the food alliance are Paul Jakoboski, the Moran center’s former director, who is battling cancer.
The alliance idea also was helped along by a community needs assessment United Way is doing in partnership with Lawrence & Memorial Hospital in New London. Dina Sears-Graves, United Way’s vice president of community investment, gave an update on the assessment, saying 12 of the top 18 needs are related to the economy. Job retraining, income maintenance, home foreclosures and health insurance were among the top issues, Sears-Graves said.
Many of those people relating their economic needs also spoke of not engaging in physical activity and wanting to lose weight, she said.
“It was a clear pattern,” Sears-Graves said.
The assessment will be further discussed at United Way’s campaign celebration in March, leaders said.