Helping West Dallas Neighbors Make Heart-Healthy Choices All Year Long
The American Heart Association, West Dallas Multipurpose Center and NTFB are partnering to provide residents with access to foods that support their health during American Heart Month, and every month.
The team at the West Dallas Multipurpose Center know that they can offer all the healthy vegetables they want, but if they don’t also provide neighbors with ideas for enjoying those veggies, they’re likely not going to get eaten.
“We try to do five ingredients or less so we’re not giving them Julia Childs’ recipe for sweet potatoes,” said Ashley Hutto, center manager for the city of Dallas’ West Dallas Multipurpose Center, which partners with the American Heart Association North Texas, the North Texas Food Bank, The Last Patrol and Medical City Healthcare Supported by the HCA Healthcare Foundation. “If we don’t make it easy for them to change their behaviors and implement it in their home, it’s not going to happen.”
Located in a designated food desert, the West Dallas Multipurpose Center offers a host of programs, including twice-monthly produce distribution, emergency food kits, a Produce RX initiative in collaboration with Brother Bill’s Helping Hand, and cooking and nutrition classes.
“We have an interest in not only addressing food insecurity and access, but also in addressing chronic health issues with interventions,” Ashley said.
Produce distribution, which is done through a client choice-style setup, is held each second and fourth Friday, which are the Fridays that distributions don’t take place at nearby Brother Bill’s. In the Produce RX program, neighbors who visit Brother Bill’s medical clinic can be referred to the West Dallas Multipurpose Center where the American Heart Association offers kits and training to help people monitor their blood pressure. Those same neighbors also have the option to obtain produce and to attend cooking and nutrition classes by the American Heart Association.
Jenny Eyer, vice president of health strategies for the American Heart Association North Texas, said vegetables and fruit distributed are all meant to address hypertension and information about how to prepare produce in healthy ways is handed out along with groceries.
Jenny said hypertension is one of the most common chronic diseases, but people often don’t know they’re walking around with high blood pressure until it leads to a bigger problem, such as a stroke. If they can encourage neighbors to “know their numbers,” or understand what their blood pressure is, they can also help point them to foods that will support a healthy blood pressure.
“In the prevention world, food is incredibly important,” she said. “At the end of the day, we look at food as medicinal. It’s a huge factor in hypertension, diabetes and other chronic illnesses.”
Jenny adds that they know access to healthy food is not equitable and that many of the neighbors they see in West Dallas have to decide between purchasing healthy groceries or paying for medicine or doctor visits. By providing healthy food, they hope to prevent some of those tough choices.
The West Dallas Multipurpose Center has officially partnered with the American Heart Association to distribute food from the NTFB for nearly three years, and Ashley said they only aim to continue growing. In the coming months, they’re working to add Nudge Pantry material, or small cues such as shelf tags or additional recipe cards, that help encourage neighbors to select heart-healthy food items.
Bry Mabry, community impact director for the American Heart Association North Texas, said it’s important for partners and neighbors to know the “why” behind food choices, so the more information they can provide people, the better.
She and Jenny emphasized that while American Heart Month is important for raising awareness about heart health, the messages they share are relevant all year long.
“It is more than just a month,” Jenny said. “We are hoping to change the world.”
For more information on eating heart healthy foods and for recipes, visit heart.org.