Little Lights exists in an area in DC facing some of the highest food insecurity rates in the nation.
Almost 12 percent of the District’s population struggles with food insecurity, meaning an individual lacks access to an affordable, nutritious, and adequate diet, according to a study by the Urban Institute.
While Little Lights holistically addresses the academic, economic, and spiritual needs of entire families, it has become increasingly important to the 25 year-old DC nonprofit to care for the physical health of families by providing access to nutritious foods and information.
This semester staff have begun to incorporate healthier food options in Little Lights after school dinner menu. Foods like chickpeas, spinach, roasted potatoes, bell peppers, grapes, and pizza topped with plant-based cheese and fresh vegetables have all made frequent appearances in the dinners prepared for students.
Ms. Caluah, a program assistant who helps to prepare these meals, believes this new shift will only help the students and families develop healthier eating habits. “The students are used to eating a high sugar and salt diet because those foods are typically more affordable and accessible to families. The African American community deals largely with diabetes and high cholesterol and so it’s important to slowly introduce healthy foods and present it in a way that makes the students interested in trying it. ”
Recently staff gathered together to watch Forks Over Knives, a documentary promoting a healthy lifestyle by adopting a plant based diet.
“I wanted to help the staff better understand why we were making the decision to provide a more plant-based menu (basically providing more vegetables and fruits) for our students and families at Little Lights,” Mary Park, Deputy Director of Little Lights, shared.
As staff are rolling out healthier food options at our after school programs, adults who attend The Gathering, a weekly worship service hosted by Little Lights, are also getting their share of plant based meals, too.
“People have begun sharing with me how grateful they are that we have started to incorporate plant-based foods into our dinner menu,” Mary recalled. “One resident shared with me that she was recently diagnosed with heart disease and that the meals we are providing will not only help improve her health but will also help her learn new nutritious recipes to try at home.”
Little Lights desires to empower residents in a way that affects every aspect of their life. Which is why Mary is passionate about leading the organization towards healthy eating – because it aligns with Little Lights existing mission in caring for the whole person.
“Our physical well being and our spiritual and emotional well being are all connected. We want everyone connected to Little Lights to live a long, healthy life as much as it is within our control. That has always been our prayer and I believe growing in the area of healthy eating will help us accomplish our overall mission.”