By: Emily Meissen-Sebelius, Children’s Mercy project coordinator
Anna-Maria Roaché, with the American College of Obstetricians-Gynecologists (ACOG), arrived in Kansas City on Thursday August 11th for a whirlwind tour of our target neighborhood for the Community Partnerships for Healthy Mothers and Children grant.
The visit began with a tour of one of the eight Truman Medical Center (TMC) WIC offices in the Kansas City metro. TMC-WIC is the largest WIC agency in the state of Missouri and in the greater Kansas City area. With multiple sites, often co-locating with community partners, the TMC-WIC program serves 11,000 participants per month throughout the city. Anna-Maria saw first- hand the 12345 Fit-Tastic! messaging at the WIC office, which highlights one of the ways the TMC-WIC program participates in the team’s Healthy Lifestyles Initiative (HLI), part of Children’s Mercy’s Weighing In coalition. Anna-Maria met with key staff from TMC-WIC as well as the Children’s Mercy to hear about the history of the partnership and how the grant interweaves with the work of the HLI and WIC to share a consistent message about health, while also implementing policy, systems and environmental change strategies within partner settings and the community.
After our meeting and tour of the WIC office, we visited Rollin Grocer, one of the key partners that the group is working with to increase access to healthy foods. Rollin Grocer is a new mobile market that targets mainly underserved communities in the KC metro. A full-service grocery store, Rollin Grocer provides a variety products, including high quality fruits and vegetables. While Rollin Grocer already accepts SNAP and is participating in a “double-up food bucks” program to improve access even further, they do not accept WIC at this time. Our team has met with the Rollin Grocer staff and is working with them and with the state WIC agency to determine how we might support Rollin Grocer to become a WIC authorized vendor. We are excited to see how the journey unfolds and hope to be able to make Rollin Grocer, a beacon for many in the city’s food deserts, more accessible for WIC participants.
The next stop on our site visit was a large full service grocery store that accepts WIC, but is located outside of our target community. While the quality and variety of produce was excellent, the location, affordability and accessibility are difficult for WIC participants and others in the community. Next, we showed Anna-Maria several other partner organizations, such as a neighborhood association with a small farmers market and Harvest Learning Center Store, a small store with fruits and vegetables, located in a church nearby. These healthier food options are located on the border of our targeted zip codes, and we hope to broaden our reach to include these partners more in the work.
As we crossed over the highway, Anna-Maria was able to see the barriers for many who are living in a “food desert” within our targeted community. While there are 3 WIC authorized stores in the area, none of them offer enough high quality, affordable produce to meet the needs of WIC participants and community members.
Our site visit also included a stop at a local wholesale bakery outlet, called the Cakery. While not a full service grocery store, the location, affordability, cleanliness of the store and friendliness of the staff, as well as their deep commitment to the community, make it a place frequented by community members. The Cakery owners are very invested in the community and looking for ways they can support healthy and affordable food access. Through our coalition connections, we are working on how they might be able to start offering some healthy options and combine that with messaging/promotion and placement strategies. Next door, we showed Anna-Maria a primary care clinic that participates in the HLI through messaging, assessment and goal setting around healthy behaviors. We hope to use the grant to further institutionalize and build on the great work that is happening at Hope Family Care Clinic. Anna-Maria got to hear about the partnership that exists between WIC and Hope Family Care Clinic, as WIC co-locates in the clinic one day per week. Dr. Cymanthia Connell, the physician on our leadership team, is a former Hope Family Care Clinic physician and still volunteers there, as part of her commitment to the community.
The busy day ended with our leadership team meeting at the Linwood Family YMCA. Before the meeting began, we got a personalized tour of Truman Medical Center’s Healthy Harvest Mobile Market. Recognizing a lack of grocery stores in the urban core, the TMC Mobile Market began in 2012 to bring fresh fruits and vegetables at affordable prices to these underserved communities. The TMC Mobile Market has already taken the first step of sharing the 12345 Fit-Tastic! message, and we talked with the dedicated and passionate staff about ways this project and our coalition can further support them and the community members who visit the TMC Mobile Market.
Lastly, Anna-Maria was able to observe our leadership team meeting, see the progress we had made, hear input of the WIC participants and see first-hand some of the challenges we face in engaging community partners who are involved in our coalition work, but also involved in many other coalitions, meetings and initiatives in our large metro area.
Our day ended with a quick tour of the Linwood YMCA, whose executive director, Stephenie Smith, is a key partner on our coalition and leadership team. Anna-Maria saw a visual of the community input that went into the plan for the newly renovated YMCA (under construction now) which will include an on-site primary care clinic, teaching kitchen, and many physical activity opportunities for community members.