By Yepoka Yeebo
EAST HARLEM — A new program is teaching East Harlem students how to tell the difference between healthy and unhealthy foods, before giving them free rein to go shopping for their own items.
The Open Market program at the Union Settlement Association on East 104th Street teaches children about nutrition at an after-school program, then lets them "shop" at a free market set up by volunteers sponsored by Target.
"I learned that there are certain foods that are healthy and not healthy," said Michael Jiminez, 9. "Sometimes you can look at the back, like on this corn, it says total fat, one gram, two percent. It means it's not that fattening."
Michael said his favorite food that he bought was the grapes, because they were juicy.
Samara Drayton, 9, was more of a carbohydrate fan.
"Out of everything, I like the pasta, because I like macaroni and cheese and spaghetti, and that comes from pasta," she said. "I got grapes, peanut butter, pasta, tomatoes, corn, and a juice box."
The program, which is sponsored by Target and is run by the Food Pantry For New York City, is designed to make sure children have enough food at home when they're not covered by free meals at school. It was inspired after teachers complained that some students returned to school after vacations with empty stomachs.
A few hundred children, drawn from after-school and child care programs at the Union Settlement Association will take part in the program. Union Settlement specialises in providing services to students across the board, so some parents pay for their children to take part, while some students from low income families are subsidised by city funding and the Head Start program. Parents pick their children up and help them lug the large bags of groceries home.
"It's a fabulous program that provides children with meals at home during the weekends, and after school," said Carlos Rodriguez, vice president of the Food Bank for New York City, "but it's designed with the goal of providing them with a little bit of nutritional education."