Max Mattern / WUFT News
Jaelyn Hargrove and other children at the Salvation Army gained an opportunity Thursdasy afternoon not all kids her age get to have — access to healthy food.
Over the past five years, the Salvation Army’s health and fitness programs increased 65 percent across the U.S.
The Salvation Army is a charitable and religious organization that cares for the poor and homeless.
“People in poverty deserve access to health resources to combat obesity and live long lives,” wrote Commissioner William Roberts, National Commander for The Salvation Army. “The Salvation Army has grown its mission to encourage wellness for all — for the mind, body and soul.”
The Gainesville chapter has been no exception.
About a year ago, the local Salvation Army began installing an organic garden with the help of Florida Organic Growers. Within weeks, kids were planting their own fruits and vegetables.
“That was our response to the issue of wellness, to incorporate a healthy diet for all the kids,” said Lewis, one of the corps officers at the Gainesville chapter.
In the garden, greens, peas, carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers and even hot peppers have been planted by kids, for kids.
“I really love to pick what plants we grow,” said Hargrove, one of the children at the Gainesville location.
For the past two years, 11-year-old Hargrove has been a part of The Salvation Army and has loved every minute of it.
“It’s my favorite part of the day,” Hargrove said.
The sixth grader said she likes the healthy options here because she doesn’t always get them at school and home. She admitted, though, that chicken wings are an all-time favorite food.
At times, the Salvation Army will serve food like chicken tenders, but all meals will be supplemented with healthy options, such as fruit and vegetables.
“Balanced diet, sleep and exercise will help to keep kids staying healthy, and since we don’t have any gyms or workout rooms, we hone in on the balanced diet,” Lewis said.
The Salvation Army is considered one of the countryy’s top charities, with an average rating of “A-” on Charitywatch.org, which monitors charities’ giving.
One of the criteria for determining a top charity is whether at least 75 percent of its budget goes towards programming. In 2012, about 82 percent of Salvation Army expenses went towards programming, according to the Better Business Bureau.
On average, 61 percent of Salvation Army wellness programs have seen an increase in demand worldwide over the past year. Community gardens, like the one in Gainesville, are ranked sixth among the 10 most popular programs, according to the Salvation Army’s “Wellness for All” report.
Lewis said he hopes to double the garden’s size soon.
“We are hoping that it changes a lifestyle,” he said. “We hope they will gain these practices to use in the future.”