Central Arkansas Library System, in partnership with the National Recreation and Park Association, has received a $30,000 grant to increase access to healthy foods and parks and recreation sites. The gift is part of a $1.5 million grant NRPA received from the Walmart Foundation to increase access to healthy foods in park and recreation agencies across the country.
The grant supports the City of Little Rock’s Be Mighty Little Rock afterschool and summer meal program by funding a new venture with CALS, Be Mighty Little Rock and Rock Region METRO to increase access to meal sites and activity centers by providing free bus passes to children and youths 18 and younger. The program, called Be Mighty METRO, allows participants access to free meals and activities provided in coordination with the Be Mighty Little Rock campaign. The passes provide unlimited rides on any Rock Region METRO route June 1 through July 31. CALS will receive additional support for meals provided through USDA after-school and summer meal programs, as well as nutritional literacy materials to help ensure life-long healthy habits for Little Rock’s youths.
“The Access to Healthy Foods grant is a perfect way for CALS to expand its existing afterschool and summer programming for youths in our area,” said Nate Coulter, CALS executive director. “We are a natural partner to the local school districts and Rock Region METRO, and in administering this grant, we are bringing these groups together to meet an existing community need. We hope to reach as many as 1,000 children and teens visiting our local libraries this summer.”
The Be Mighty METRO pass, which is good for June 1-July 31, is only available to participants age 18 and younger. Riders 11 and younger will be provided a pass for themselves and a guardian. Passes may be reserved starting May 13 at bemightylittlerock.org and picked up at any CALS branch. The pass reservation form and list of available meal sites can be found at www.bemightylittlerock.org.
“Lack of transportation is often an insurmountable barrier for many children and youths who need healthy food,” said Charles D. Frazier, METRO executive director. “Most Be Mighty Little Rock meal sites are located along a METRO fixed route, and we are happy to participate in this program that enables our community’s youths to access healthy meals and safe places to spend time during the day.”
In Little Rock, libraries have been one of the largest providers of healthy meals to children in low-income communities through the USDA child nutrition programs, working to address hunger, provide nutrition education, and keep youths safe and engaged during out-of-school times. Building upon this strong foundation and the existing strengths of local agencies, NRPA seeks to expand the role and capacity of local parks and recreation to improve food access across diverse communities and generations by piloting and evaluating transportation and infrastructure barriers in communities. Little Rock’s Be Mighty METRO pilot leverages existing resources and assets, builds partnerships, and utilizes innovative systems to transport youths. Partners involved include CALS, Rock Region METRO, the City of Little Rock, the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance and the Little Rock School District.
According to Share our Strength’s No Kid Hungry Campaign, 1 in 6 youths across the country struggle with hunger every day. During the school year, more than 21 million low-income children receive free or reduced meals to help them meet their daily nutrition needs, but only 3 million of these youths receive these meals during the summer. During summer months, these youths may not have access to quality and healthy food to help them grow — making the Be Mighty Little Rock program partners’ work during out-of-school times that much more critical.
“NRPA is thankful for our partnership with the Walmart Foundation to support local park and recreation agencies who make health and wellness a priority in the communities they serve — especially during out-of-school time,” said Kellie May, NRPA vice president of programs. “Parks and recreation are proving their critical role in the health of their communities and we can’t wait to see the impact this year’s grants will have on fostering life-long healthy habits in children across the country.”
To learn more about Be Mighty Little Rock, visit www.bemightylittlerock.org. To learn more about NRPA’s Commit to Health campaign, which supports the implementation and evaluation of Healthy Eating Physical Activity standards in park and recreation sites across the country, visit www.nrpa.org/committohealth.
About Be Mighty Little Rock
Be Mighty Little Rock is a citywide campaign to connect children and teens 18 and younger to free meals. Summer meals will be offered at schools, libraries, parks, splash pads, community centers and other sites. Some sites offer breakfast and lunch; others offer dinner or a snack. The campaign is made possible through the CHAMPS grant from the National League of Cities (NLC) and Food Research and Action Center (FRAC). Little Rock is one of only six cities to receive the grant. NRPA, NLC, and FRAC work in partnership with the Walmart Foundation.
About the National Recreation and Park Association
The National Recreation and Park Association is a national not-for-profit organization dedicated to ensuring that all Americans have access to parks and recreation for health, conservation and social equity. Through its network of 60,000 recreation and park professionals and advocates, NRPA encourages the promotion of healthy and active lifestyles, conservation initiatives and equitable access to parks and public space. For more information, visit www.nrpa.org. For digital access to NRPA’s flagship publication, Parks & Recreation, visit www.parksandrecreation.org.