South Salt Lake families fight drugs with food
For many parents, summer means more time with the children, family visits to the community pool and fresh tomatoes from the backyard garden. But for South Salt Lake resident Debra Dawson, the eagerness she feels about having her children home more often comes with apprehension about finding ways to feed them.
Dawson sometimes has just one meal a day, she said. When she does eat, it usually happens in front of the television, because the dining room in her two-bedroom apartment has been converted to a third bedroom.
“You do what you’ve got to do when you don’t have a lot of money,” she said. “I can’t afford a bigger apartment.”
Despite the economic struggles of Dawson’s family, they are involved in improving the community and their own future. Dawson’s 15-year-old son, Eriq volunteers as part of the youth council for the South Salt Lake Coalition for Drug Free Youth.
In June, that coalition initiated a study that measures whether poor families who gain access to fresh food eat together more often than when that food is unavailable. Orchestrated by Coalition Director Rob Timmerman, the study is built on the fact that children from families who eat meals together regularly are less likely to abuse drugs.
The coalition purchased a week’s worth of food from the Utah Co-op for 20 families, who got the food free in exchange for answering surveys before and after the program. The Dawsons were among those families.
The food shares included produce such as green leaf lettuce, fresh broccoli, oranges and strawberries. Each family also received a loaf of honey wheat bread, bacon, ground beef, chicken and a dessert of frosted sugar cookies. The food boxes came with recipe ideas and conversation starters for families that are unaccustomed to conversing during meals.
Post-experiment surveys will help Timmerman gauge whether his idea to provide fresh food to needy families is helpful in creating family cohesion. If so, he hopes to expand the program. In that case, the coalition would use funds from federal anti-drug programs to purchase shares with the Utah Co-op.
For program participant David Young, the initiative makes sense. The California native grew up with parents who often told him about the dangers of drugs, he explained. Later on in the streets of big cities, he had many chances to use drugs.
“Talking about it just stopped me from doing anything,” he said. “I never did.”
Now, Young and his daughters cook breakfast together and talk daily about right and wrong.
If the fresh food program is implemented more widely, it would add to existing coalition programs such as Strengthening Families, which teaches communication skills to high-risk families, END (End Nicotine Dependence) Classes and the Community Character Initiative, which uses stories, quotes and activities to spur community dialogue. Activities take place in schools and community centers and focus on monthly concepts such as caring, charity and unity.