Oakland, Calif.

Community is among 50 sites making changes in national initiative to prevent obesity.

    • December 2, 2008

In Oakland, a city of 400,000 located on the east side of San Francisco Bay, the Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities project will focus on 25 especially disadvantaged public schools. Each campus sits in a high-poverty neighborhood without any full-service grocery store; liquor and convenience stores serve as many residents’ primary source of food. The schools also lack adequate recreational space, and the space they have is closed to the public evenings and weekends because of crime problems.

Led by the East Bay Asian Youth Center, the Oakland Partnership intends to transform the 25 elementary schools into neighborhood hubs where 10,000 children, youth and families will be able to regularly buy fresh food and enjoy safe physical activity.

The plan is for individual school/neighborhood coalitions that will:

  • Establish weekly organic produce markets with nutrition education, garden education and outreach campaigns for enrollment in food stamps and free or reduced-cost school lunches; and
  • Redesign and renovate schoolyards with organized sports and outdoor education programming during after-school, weekend and summer times.

The partnership will work through school district capital improvements, after-school and summer youth programming by the district and city, and school district and county nutrition education.

In Oakland, the project is riding a real high, according to project direct David Kakishiba. “There’s a lot of interest,” he said. Take that planned expansion of the school produce markets. “If we’d tried to do this five years ago, we would have gotten no traction,” he acknowledged. The partnership first needed to train a cadre of parent leaders to assume responsibility at the schools and to figure out a central distribution system for the fruits and vegetables. With both accomplished, “I think we’re going to see some real movement now.”

The neighborhoods’ diversity reflects the city’s. A third of Oakland’s population is African-American and a fourth is White, with significant numbers of Latino and Asian residents. About 37 percent of people speak a language other than English at home.

That diversity is both a strength and a challenge, Kakishiba said. Getting so many different individuals to agree on a common direction can be difficult, yes. But their varied backgrounds and experiences also help them see a shared purpose. “There’s more of a willingness, more of a capacity to create some positive change,” Kakishiba believes.

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