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Healthy Children Pantry provides food and nutrition education to Bayview families

Lionel

“I hear words like ‘it’s a blessing’ and ‘it’s a godsend’ – and always ‘thank you,’” says Lionel Hill, a volunteer and participant at the George Washington Carver Elementary Healthy Children Pantry.

Every Wednesday morning, Lionel gets up at 5:30 a.m. to catch the bus to meet the Food Bank delivery truck at the school. He then helps with the set up before the pantry starts at 8 a.m. It runs until 9 a.m., “or until all the food’s been given out.”

Carver Elementary is located in the Bayview district in San Francisco, where corner stores selling potato chips and soda vastly outnumber well-stocked supermarkets. The families appreciate the fresh produce, and the kids love the fresh fruit, in particular.

“It’s something that’s needed in this community,” Lionel said.

Most of the families are low income, says Donna Smith, the school’s parent teacher liaison.

“At our school, way more than 50 percent of the students qualify for free and reduced-price lunch,” she says.

About 85 percent of the students at Carver Elementary are African-American. Because diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol disproportionately affect the African-American community, Lionel says the accessibility and nutritional value of the pantry food is all the more important.

Lionel, who himself suffers from diabetes and high blood pressure, underwent volunteer training to act as a peer health coach for others.

“I am educating people on how to treat these ailments in our community. That has a lot to do with education – with knowledge – with information, and with healthy food,” Lionel says. “The best place to get that knowledge out is at a school like Carver. The parents take that information and then use it in their shopping.”

Pantry participants learn about fruits and vegetables they have never tried before. An onsite school nutritionist often makes a healthy dish from ingredients found at the food pantry and then offers samples at the morning pantry.

Lionel says he developed a taste and preference for the Asian pear – a fruit that’s confusing to the uninitiated because of its apple-like shape and its firmness when fully ripe – because it was distributed at the pantry.

“I had always bought the Bosc pears,” Lionel says. “Through the pantry, I learned about the Asian pear. I asked around and learned how to cut it. I think it’s wonderful. Now I seek out those pears when I can, and I’ve found out about new recipes and vegetables that I never would have eaten before.”

Lionel, like many parents at the school, is taking care of extended family. A retired election clerk, Lionel has been acting as caregiver to his great nephew since he was 3 months old.

“The food is a tremendous help,” Lionel says.