FREEPORT — Fresh produce overtook the O.A. Fleming Elementary cafeteria Thursday morning, with stacks of potatoes, tomatoes and other fruits and vegetables covering every square inch of the tables.
But the team of volunteers is up to the task, Brazosport ISD Child Nutrition Director Rachel Arthur said. They spring into action as soon as they receive the signal, making quick work of the seemingly endless supply of fruits and vegetables.
“Believe it or not, it happens very quickly,” Arthur said.
Through a partnership with Houston-based nonprofit Brighter Bites, the almost 4,000 pounds of produce would end up in the mouths of Freeport families, providing them with healthy foods they otherwise might not have access to, Arthur said.
“This is a real luxury for them,” Denise Babb, the district’s director of federal and early childhood programs, said as she helped bag cucumbers. “Not only is it healthy, but they don’t get to buy them.”
Brighter Bites delivers fresh fruit and produce directly into families’ hands, and also aims to educate them about how to incorporate those foods into their everyday diet, Program Coordinator Kristin Kappler said.
“We don’t want to just give away the produce and families have no idea how to use it and it ends up in the trash,” Kappler said. “We want to be a support system.”
During weekly distribution cycles, each family can take home two bags, which include tip sheets explaining how to use the produce in their kitchen and a recipe card for a snack children can sample at distribution time, Kappler said.
“We bring it full circle so the kids can try the snack and go home and tell their parents, ‘Hey, I want to make this,’” she said. “We’re hoping it sparks something in them. This is just a supplement — we want them to repurchase this.”
The produce comes from the Houston Food Bank and is primarily donated by farmers who have more crops than they can use or sell, Kappler said.
“It makes a huge difference to be able to give out produce that these farmers wouldn’t have used,” she said. “We’re able to do something special with it rather than it going to waste.”
Brighter Bites typically focuses on inner-city students, serving more than 50 schools in the Houston area and a handful in Dallas and Austin, Kappler said. At least 80 percent of students at all campuses must qualify for free or reduced lunch, she said.
The nonprofit’s officials decided to make an exception for Freeport when state Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, met with the director about establishing a presence in Brazoria County, Arthur said.
“We had to work through a lot of logistics to get to distribution,” the child nutrition director said. “I never would have thought they would come here.”
Brighter Bites now serves about 450 Freeport families whose children attend Jane Long, Velasco and Fleming elementary schools, as well as Lanier Middle School, Kappler said. Parents can pick up their grocery bags every Thursday at those campuses.
“Our goal is to target a community that doesn’t have access to things like fresh produce co-ops,” Arthur said. “It’s an amazing program.”
Families looking to participate in the Brighter Bites program can call the front office at their child’s school or contact Kappler at [email protected]