“Food for Every Child” report brings over $200,000 to Improve Food Access to Low-Income Areas in El Paso

UTHealth Center for Community Health Impact faculty with El Paso County Commissioners and staff and HFFI grant recipients, Desert Spoon Food Hub
UTHealth Center for Community Health Impact faculty with El Paso County Commissioners and staff and HFFI grant recipients, Desert Spoon Food Hub
The El Paso County Commissioner’s Court voted unanimously to approve Healthy Food Financing Initiative (HFFI) grant funds to three local organizations during a regular meeting on Feb. 24, 2020. Awards range from $18,600 to $150,000 and represent diverse business plans and benefits to the community. 
Grant recipients include:
  • Desert Spoon Food Hub for a project to expand residential delivery of a locally sourced produce box program; develop a food processing warehouse in Central El Paso, serving local producers; and open a mini-market in Central El Paso.
  • Growing with Sara Farm for a project to renovate an existing structure in Socorro into a farm stand offering local produce and products.
  • Xtreme Core Fitness in Horizon for a project to purchase equipment and hire staff to expand their health food meal prep offerings and delivery.
In 2019, El Paso County set aside $500,000 to fund projects aimed at expanding access to healthy foods in areas of the community where healthy, affordable food options are scarce. This came after a needs assessment, detailed in the “Foodfor Every Child” report, identified areas across El Paso County where low-income residents lack access to food retail and suffer high deaths due to diet-related illnesses.
All 3 funded projects serve areas of high need identified in the report, which was written by a team led by Dr. Leah Whigham, director of the Center for Community Health Impact (CCHI) at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) School of Public Health in El Paso. The needs assessment was funded by the Paso del Norte Health Foundation through their Healthy Eating Active Living Initiative. 
“Access to healthy and affordable food is essential for people to lead healthy lives. HFFI is a great way to increase access for people in our county. We are excited to partner with the County to provide nutrition and food access expertise for this new program,” said Dr. Whigham.
Now the UTHealth CCHI serves as the food access partner, working with the county’s Economic Development Department to identify and vet projects that meet the goals of the HFFI program, as well as provide support to grantees for implementation and evaluation. “These initial HFFI grantees are members of our community who are dedicated to improving access to affordable, healthy food. It is exciting to see growth and expansion in this critical sector of our regional economy,” said Gabriela Gallegos, the associate professor at the UTHealth CCHI who is overseeing the HFFI implementation and evaluation efforts.
HFFI programs in different parts of the country have been an effective tool for state and local governments to bring new supermarkets, grocery stores, and other food retail models and food infrastructure to underserved communities. “As the initial projects to receive HFFI funds, these awards will take the first step in making our people healthier and our food distribution systems more robust,” said Andrea Hutchins, Economic Development Director for El Paso County.
Nationally, HFFI programs have been established in communities for years, but El Paso County represents the first such program operated by a county government and is a great example of an economic development strategy that can diminish food scarcity while increasing access to healthy foods.
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