Parks as Community Nutrition Hubs: Expanding Access to Healthy Foods

By Maureen Neumann | Posted on August 4, 2020

Community Nutrition Hub 410

With support from the Walmart Foundation, NRPA is working to support local park and recreation agencies in their efforts to serve as community nutrition hubs. But what is a community nutrition hub?

We see this as a manifestation of the work local park and recreation agencies are already doing in their role as providers of nutrition support. In a number of ways, park and recreation professionals are meeting the health and well-being needs of their community members by serving meals through federal nutrition programs, providing nutrition education opportunities, and increasing access to healthy foods through farmers markets, community gardens and community-supported agriculture programs.

But what if agencies could expand on this work, and truly support systems-wide changes that create sustainable health outcomes? We believe park and recreation agencies are perfectly positioned to serve as community wellness hubs, and that nutrition support is just one facet of this larger strategy. As trusted community gathering spaces, we see opportunities in park and recreation agencies to offer food insecurity screenings and offer referrals to meal programs and nutrition supports, to support SNAP and WIC enrollment and retention services in partnership with local state offices, and to offer mobile services to meet community members where they are. We also see opportunities to build coalitions of like-minded organizations like healthcare systems, food banks and universities to create a whole-community approach to nutrition and more comprehensive health and social services.

Over the next 18 months, 15 local park and recreation agencies will be planning and implementing community nutrition hubs, designed with community input to meet the specific and unique needs of their own communities. Starting with a community needs assessment— and guidance on how to safely conduct community engagement during the time of COVID-19 — grantee agencies are developing plans to support healthy, accessible food access and nutrition supports for all community members. In late 2020, they’ll begin to implement their plans, introducing increased opportunities for nutrition education to both youth and adults, ramping up efforts to provide screenings and referrals, linking community members to enrollment assistance, and increasing awareness of local partners who can work together to support health and well-being goals.

Through this grant period, NRPA, with the support of subject matter experts in the nutrition space, will be developing resources to benefit the entire field of parks and recreation. We’ll be evaluating the work of our 15 grantee agencies to glean the most effective models and identify key best practices and guiding principles for developing nutrition hubs. These best practices will be compiled into a digital toolkit available to all agencies to implement different strategies step-by-step.

In addition to the digital toolkit, we’re also working to develop key resources to support park and recreation professionals as they steward community wellness hubs:

  • The Health Equity Framework will serve as a tool to help park and recreation professionals apply an equity lens to the development of nutrition hubs, including understanding historical systemic barriers, changing existing policies and conducting community needs assessments.
  • The Health Impact Evaluation Framework will include key qualitative and quantitative measures, communications resources, and more tools to help park and recreation professionals evaluate and share the impact of their community nutrition hubs.
  • Resources to address and support food insecurity, including a food insecurity screening questionnaire, and customizable SNAP/WIC eligibility and enrollment assistance checklists.

NRPA is also using this time to enhance our evidence-based nutrition education curriculum, drawing a stronger focus on resources that support healthy living behaviors, including preparing and consuming meals as a family, utilization of SNAP/WIC benefits at farmers markets and grocery stores, and benefit use with the goal of overcoming the stigma associated with benefit participation.

We’re excited to share the evolution of parks and recreation as community nutrition hubs throughout the process, and working to ensure everyone has access to fresh, healthy foods and nutrition to support their well-being!



Maureen Neumann is NRPA’s Program Manager