Back in June, more than 200 Blaine and Birch Bay residents flocked to Blaine Elementary School for a family health night featuring a healthy, locally sourced dinner, information on healthy eating and healthy lifestyles, physical activities and educational booths.
The successful event – organized by the Let’s Move Blaine! coalition – pushed the healthy-living movement into overdrive. Now, the coalition will build on that success with a series of three similar events over the next nine months paid for by a $5,000 grant from the Whatcom Community Foundation’s Sustainable Whatcom Fund.
“It’s really exciting,” said Hope Heart Institute program manager Laurie Sween, who led the grant proposal process. Last June’s event was similar to many the Hope Heart Institute leads throughout Washington, but the next three events will have a distinctly Whatcom County flavor. The group has partnered with Let’s Move Blaine! on a number of its projects so far.
Sween built the grant proposal and planned for the three events with an eye toward creating a unified vision.
“We don’t want each event to happen in isolation,” she said. Though the upcoming events will be led by three different community groups, each will focus on the role local, healthy food plays in a healthier overall lifestyle.
The first event is set for October 24, and will be led by Common Threads Farm. The second and third will take place in March and May and be led by Food Sense and the Community Food Co-op, respectively. Sween’s next step is working with each of the groups to figure out what exactly the events will include.
Mardi Solomon, part of the Whatcom Farms-to-Schools support team who collected data at the June event, worked closely with Sween to build the grant proposal.
Solomon sees the next three family health nights as building blocks toward a larger goal.
“We’re trying to build demand in the Blaine area for more local, fresh foods at home, not just at school,” she said. Hopefully that will manifest in people visiting local farmers markets, purchasing CSA (community-supported agriculture) shares, seeking out local foods in grocery stores or purchasing local foods directly from farms.
At the June event, Solomon and the Farms-to-Schools team found that 63 percent of attendees are more likely to improve their eating habits and 75 percent are more likely to increase their physical activity after attending the event.
The survey results dovetail nicely with the Let’s Move Blaine! pillars, which aren’t just about healthy food access and school nutrition, but about increased physical activity and educating parents and caregivers.
Sween, who works with communities throughout the state, notes an especially supportive environment in Blaine’s effort to battle childhood obesity.
“You have so many champions emerging,” Sween said, noting especially Blaine elementary teacher Dan Persse who coordinated this year’s Run to the Border, with all proceeds going to Let’s Move Blaine!
Persse, who teaches physical education, said the biggest boon to the Let’s Move Blaine! movement has been great timing.
“It’s just the right time for our community,” he said, deflecting credit for the coalition’s success. Persse has seen an influx of younger families moving to the Blaine area, and along with the city council’s support and some physical changes to the downtown core, people are feeling empowered when it comes to healthy living.
“It makes the community feel like they can do more for their lifestyle,” Persse said.
Quite often, Sween said, the healthy living message isn’t a very fun one – we all know we could stand to be healthier, but it’s hard to get motivated to take the steps to do so.
“(But) this lifestyle shift, healthy living shift, nutrition shift – Let’s Move Blaine! is showing that being healthier can be fun,” Sween said.
Solomon said it’s the community emphasis that has made the Blaine movement a success so far. It’s not specifically school-focused, though schools are a big part of the program, but rather the whole community is involved.
“I’m loving the Blaine project,” Solomon said. “We’re especially loving how (the coalition) has gotten the community players involved.”
Solomon pointed out that getting various local groups involved is as simple as a phone call or running into a neighbor at the grocery store. The Blaine community looks at food issues in a very comprehensive way, she added.
“It’s so easy to network,” she said. “Everyone is connected.”