Like more than 200 Junior Leagues, JLB is a loyal participant in AJLI’s Kids in the Kitchen program, which brings the fight against childhood obesity down to the community level. But now JLB leadership has decided to take the program on the road – literally.
Research indicated that many older kids in the Birmingham, Alabama area have primary care of their younger siblings during the day, while their parents are at work, suggesting a focus on the need for these kids to learn how to prepare full family-style meals using nutritious ingredients in a fully equipped kitchen. This wasn’t always possible at school-based events. Given the many requests from community partners for KITK events, building a dedicated KITK kitchen also made sense as JLB moves to increase the program’s exposure in the community at large. But where?
With seed money in place plus a generous grant from the League’s own Beeson Fund, JLB spent a year researching that question and, finally, made the decision to go on the road – in a state-of-the-art mobile kitchen mounted in a new Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van (the largest truck available in the U.S. that doesn’t require a commercial drivers’ license to operate!). Launched in May, the Yummy van kitchen includes a gas stovetop, a microwave, two sinks and two refrigerators, as well as a built-in camera that allows cooking demonstrations inside the van to be shown on a video screen on the outside.
In addition to school visits, which are a core part of the traditional KITK program, the Yummy van is becoming a visible presence at outdoor events serving the wider Birmingham community, particularly farmers markets. There, families can buy new, unfamiliar foods and walk to the van to learn how to prepare them (the van’s bright primary colors make the mobile kitchen a zero-intimidation zone for kids!). Additionally, meals prepared on the van focus on lower-cost proteins and vegetables, striving to teach healthy eating that is also economical.
How is it working out so far? Just fine. Alison Scott, President-Elect, says that the League’s trained volunteers are enthusiastic about the utility of the mobile-kitchen approach, as are the kids and families the Yummy food truck reaches. In the works is an initiative with a community partner to provide food to residents of the area’s “food deserts,” where a combination of at-risk populations and lack of access to fresh food (particularly fruits and vegetables) contributes to a variety of health problems, including childhood obesity.
So, if you happen to be in Birmingham, just follow the colorful van with pictures of great-looking fruits and vegetables on the side!