Hundreds of families came out to a new event offering free healthy produce and information about community resources.

The Smith County Food Security Council and the East Texas Food Bank teamed up to put on the first “Produce Drop and Community Resource Roadshow” at New Days Community Church on Tuesday.

Dr. Valerie Smith, a pediatrician with the St. Paul Children’s Foundation, said she began to see the need when her young patients were coming in with high blood pressure, prediabetic symptoms and other ailments indicating lack of access to healthy meals. Smith said a recent grant came with the challenge of examining what is being seen in the clinic and determining the conditions in the larger community.

“I cannot fix kids’ access to food or clean drinking water within the four walls of our clinic,” she said.

It wasn’t enough to just serve the families that came to them — they needed to find a way to bring help directly to the communities with the most need. Coming up with a solution led to the creation of the Roadshow, which she hopes will become a quarterly event when parents can get healthy food and learn more about community resources available to keep their children healthy.

The all-day event had drawn more than 400 families by noon to the church, 901 N. Broadway Ave., with a steady line of cars looking for nearby parking.

ETFB Programs Director Tim Butler said the food bank sees an average of 300 families for its produce distribution at the East Texas State Fair grounds on the first and third Fridays of the month, so a big response to the Roadshow was anticipated.

“We were kind of blown away by the early participation,” he said. “That really proves the need.”

The event was structured like a community fair, with vendors in the parking lot of the church and more resources inside.

For the past six months, the Food Security Council, the East Texas Food Bank and food pantries across the community have worked to put together the event and plan for long-term impact in the communities they visit.

Smith said the groups saw the impact pantries were having on the families they served, but for long-term results, a way to engage the communities those families live in was needed.

“One in 4 children and 1 in 5 adults are food insecure,” she said.

For more information about community nutrition and resource events, visit EastTexasFoodBank.org.

Cory is a multimedia journalist and member of the Education Writers Association, Criminal Justice Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. He has appeared on Crime Watch Daily and Grave Mysteries on Investigation Discovery.

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