Your Health

Grassroots groups help create programs to promote better health   

Photo of a bag of groceries with vegetables and fruit.
Photo of Evan Zarecki. EVAN ZARECKI
Winnipeg Regional Health Authority
Published Friday, October 26, 2018

As a community facilitator with the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, I spend a fair amount of time assisting groups in developing grassroots programs to empower people to improve their health and well-being.

As a result, I often get asked this question: ‘What does grassroots health look like?’

The answer varies, depending on the people and the health issue they want to address. But generally speaking, the initiatives promote the four pillars of good health: physical activity, nutrition, mental well-being and tobacco prevention and reduction.

In Winnipeg, much of this work is carried out through Healthy Together Now, a chronic disease prevention program funded by the province and supported by the WRHA. Under this program, facilitators in each of the WRHA’s 12 community areas form committees that work with local organizations to create health promotion initiatives that address community needs. 

In the Seven Oaks community area, for example, the Seven Oaks Healthy Living community committee funds seven to eight health promotion initiatives a year.

One of our most effective and popular initiatives is Better Access to Groceries (BAG), which is designed to get affordable fresh produce into the hands of people living in our community.

Thanks to a partnership with Sobeys Cash and Carry and Save On Foods, BAG allows families to purchase about $30 worth of fresh fruit and vegetables for a cost of $10.

In doing so, this initiative helps promote food security within our community, which the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations defines as existing when “all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.”

The idea for BAG was first raised in 2016 by the Seven Oaks Neighbourhood Resource Network. We had a look at a similar program organized by the Chalmers Neighbourhood Renewal Corporation  in the River East Transcona community, and modelled ours after that one.

The funding from Healthy Together Now covers an honorarium for a community co-ordinator, Emmy Moreno. Not only does she co-ordinate the volunteers, manage the orders and delivery of food to the BAG pick up location, she also shows people how to cook what may be unfamiliar fruits or vegetables as part of a healthy diet.

For example, many people may not be familiar with sweet potatoes. Emmy will cook a sample recipe for people to try when they come to pick up their produce order, and also provide the recipe for them to take home. In addition, she puts together “meal bags,” which are made up of a recipe, spices and pulses such as lentils, chick peas or beans, and which can be bought for one or two dollars. These help people explore cooking in a new and healthy way.

The BAG program is wildly successful. We generally have up to 250 orders every month, including from three schools in the area, along with organizations that run cooking or nutrition programs. BAG truly is helping people struggling with food insecurity.

But BAG isn’t the only program supported by the Seven Oaks Healthy Living program. We’ve also funded Livin’ Better, a nutrition program for people with mental health concerns. This program was initially submitted by the Community Mental Health team in our neighbourhood, and is supported by the Wellness Institute and Seven Oaks Neighbourhood Resource Network.

Livin’ Better not only teaches people how to cook, but it brings them together to work on their physical health and mental well-being. A side goal is to create a community of people in order to boost their self-esteem and reduce feelings of anxiety, depression and isolation.

Another program is the Start Your Day the Right Way: the Art of Capoeira at Victory and Arthur E. Wright Community schools. Capoeira is an Afro-Brazilian martial art that combines elements of dance, acrobatics and music. In addition to teaching kids physical literacy skills, the exercise program helps boost their confidence, energy levels and ability to concentrate on their academic schoolwork.

As you can see, grassroots health is about empowerment. By supporting programs developed by the community, the Healthy Together Now program enables people living all over the city to maximize their potential for better health – and a longer and happier life.

If you would like to learn more about Healthy Together Now initiatives in your neighborhood, or attend a health program, please see

Evan Zarecki is a community facilitator at the Seven Oaks Community Health and Social Services Centre with the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority. This column was originally published in the Winnipeg Free Press on Friday, October 26, 2018.

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