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Eating healthy shouldn't be a luxury, says activist

Published November 11, 2008 7:43 pm

She emphasizes healthy food when feeding the hungry
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2008, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Posted: 7:40 PM- No matter who you are, Mercedes Zel-Pappas thinks you have a right to eat well. As director of "Feed the Poor," a Salt Lake City food bank, she is aiming to provide at least 50 percent organic food to the nonprofits they serve.

"Being healthy really shouldn't be a luxury," she said.

When she took the job, the young mother noticed that a lot of the food being donated had a high fat content and wasn't what she would want to serve to her own children. So she sought out alternatives, scoring big with the businesses that supply grocery stores.

Organic cereals, pastas, juices, apples are among the items Feed the Poor now distributes to the women and children at the YWCA in Salt Lake City, the Salvation Army, the Volunteers of America and other groups.

Though she has begun to collaborate with organic farmers and gardeners, she wants to do more.

"I feel that a lot of the food being given to the homeless and the needy is substandard," Zel-Pappas said.

Founded about 10 years ago by John Papanikolas, a Utah businessman, Feed the Poor was inspired by a trip to Denver, where he saw charities caring for the hungry. Their good work stayed on his mind.

"It just wouldn't go away," he said. "I'm a believer in God and a Christian; I felt it was coming from him."

Although one of the lesser known food agencies, Feed the Poor continues to grow and nearly tripled the square footage of its Redwood Road warehouse in May. In 2007, the organization gave away over $1 million worth of food.

And if that can of beans isn't organic, it's still a welcome donation, officials say.

"Our main goal is to help people who are having a hard time covering their food bill," Papanikolas said.

Though the push toward organic isn't commonplace among emergency food pantries, it's a worthwhile endeavor, said Gina Cornia, executive director of Utahns Against Hunger, an advocacy group. But providing healthy food to the poor needs to be accompanied by education, she said.

"You can't just promote fresh fruit and vegetables, veggies particularly, without having a conversation with folks on how to use them," she said. "We're a generation of people who's gotten away from preparing fresh food."

The reality is less healthy food is also less expensive, part of the economic food divide.

"Really good, organic, nonprocessed food is available for people who can afford it," Cornia said.

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