From the American Heart Association CEO
At the American Heart Association, we embrace our mission as a relentless force for a world of longer, healthier lives. We also recognize that good health habits begin at home. To that end, Voices for Healthy Kids—our collaboration with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation—makes it easier and more enticing for children to eat healthy, drink smart and move more.
We kicked off fiscal year 2019-2020 strong, influencing the first county-level healthy food financing initiative in El Paso, Texas, and an ordinance making milk and water the default beverages on kids’ menus in New York City restaurants.
By the end of 2019, Voices for Healthy Kids had provided funding and campaign coaching that yielded 200 policy successes.
On the heels of those wins, we welcomed 2020 with great momentum but faced unforeseen obstacles when COVID-19 hit U.S. shores. Although the pandemic shuttered schools and businesses, creating a tidal wave of health challenges and economic fallout, we quickly galvanized and scaled up innovative solutions.
From the moment school cafeterias began closing in March, we advocated for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to offer meal pick-up service for the millions of children who rely on school meals for their nutritional needs. We also worked to increase Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) dollars available to families.
Then, Voices for Healthy Kids sprang into action during the pandemic and quickly awarded $1 million to 22 nonprofit organizations to aid families. Funds were dispersed in record time — just 30 days — to organizations across 19 states, Puerto Rico and the Lummi Nation in Washington state. The grantees are deeply rooted in their communities, and we are honored to support their policy work at the state, local and tribal levels benefiting families in need.
We also expanded our focus beyond healthy food and active play to champion policies that advance access to health care and income support.
During the pandemic and beyond, Voices for Healthy Kids continues to ensure children and families across the nation, in Indian Country and on the island of Puerto Rico have every opportunity to live longer, healthier lives.
Thanks to you, our devoted supporters and policy advocates, this amazing work is possible. Together, we are relentless.
All my best,Nancy Brown Chief Executive Officer American Heart Association
From the Voices for Healthy Kids Executive Director
Had you asked me at the beginning of this year what I thought our biggest challenges and opportunities would be, I would have highlighted the need to double down on advocacy to reduce sugary drink consumption, the importance of defending against preemptive state laws that restrict local action, and the opportunity to invest more directly in organizations that are led by and represent people of color.
I did not think it would be figuring out how to meet the demands of a pandemic that led to our children learning from home and an eerie silence in our streets. And then to have that silence filled with a chorus of voices demanding racial justice in support of the Black Lives Matter movement – taking a stand against the systemic racism that impacts the well-being of Black people every day.
The campaign plans we had so carefully crafted were put on hold. Our ongoing pursuit of health equity expanded and accelerated to include learning how anti-racist policies and practices should evolve in the context of Voices for Healthy Kids. Some of our original grantmaking priorities were overshadowed by the immediate need to address safety net issues, like increasing access to Medicaid, healthy school meals, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC).
If there were moments of existential angst wondering what we could possibly do of value in the face of such dramatic turmoil, they did not last long. I could not be prouder of the way Voices for Healthy Kids quickly pivoted to direct resources to policy efforts that would provide immediate relief to children and families. Our Strategic Advisory Committee jumped in to help chart a course that put $1 million dollars and campaign support directly into communities most impacted. Our grantees and allies continued to shape policy at the tribal, local and state levels; model legislation has become more equitable; and children, families and communities have more opportunity to experience better health.
This past year has been one of bold innovation born of necessity, but not at the cost of our original goals. In this report, you can read about our work to protect the authority of local communities to navigate local challenges without unfair industry interference. We are working to sideline corporate influence that encourages sugary drink consumption and targets Black/African American, Hispanic/Latinx and American Indian and Alaska Native families and families with low incomes.
Our vision is one of building shared power. Join the Voices for Healthy Kids community as we learn together, experiment, evaluate, refine and recommit to making sure our country’s neighborhoods are healthier for all children. We are grateful for the support of our funders, including the American Heart Association and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
Thank you,Lori Fresina Executive Director Voices for Healthy Kids