Michelle Obama Helps Bring 140,000 Healthy Meals To Cleveland Families

Pass the Love with Waffles + Mochi Box graphic
Cleveland and Atlanta are the first cities to receive meal kits for families through the "Pass the Love with Waffles + Mochi" campaign. [Pass the Love with Waffles + Mochi]

Former First Lady Michelle Obama kicked off a partnership that aims to bring thousands of meals to Cleveland families alongside Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD) CEO Eric Gordon Wednesday.

The virtual summit with the Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA) announced “Pass the Love with Waffles + Mochi,” a campaign aimed at raising awareness of food insecurity and food equity.

Obama, who is PHA’s honorary chairwoman, also has a new kid’s food show, “Waffles + Mochi,” which started streaming on Netflix Wednesday. While a potentially delicious food combination, on the show Waffles and Mochi are two puppets who learn about different foods, the cultures they come from and how to eat healthy.

The goal of “Pass the Love” is to provide 1 million meals to families experiencing food insecurity and struggling to get access to good, healthy food. Cleveland and Atlanta have been selected as the first two cities and will receive nearly 400,000 meals, with distribution beginning in June.

In partnership with CMSD, the campaign will provide 140,000 meals to 3,000 Cleveland families. Ingredients for the meals will be distributed in meal kits families can pick up at CMSD sites over the course of four weeks.

Obama reflected on her own childhood on the South Side of Chicago during the virtual summit, recalling the “white flight” that caused grocery stores and food “options for people within walking distance” to leave predominantly Black neighborhoods.

“And so the whole notion of being able to find fresh produce and make a healthy meal every night became less accessible in communities like mine where I grew up,” she said. “A family can't have to get on a bus or have a car or take a cab to get a fresh head of lettuce or a nice ear of corn. But sadly, as those grocery stores left communities, all we were left with was small chains or fast food. And that's the diet of so many people and communities like mine.”

The country has an abundance of food, said Obama, who added "there’s no reason why all people shouldn’t have access to it."

“In order for us to make that shift, we've got to have partners in the private sector, food retailers, food manufacturers who are thinking creatively about ways to get all of that food to more of the families that need it,” she said.

Gordon pointed to the fact that 100 percent of CMSD’s students are eligible for free breakfast and lunches.

“We have the highest childhood poverty in the nation. So food distribution, particularly at summer, when school's out of session, is not new to us. Last year during the pandemic, we had both daily and weekly pickups and shuttle service,” Gordon said.

The “Pass the Love with Waffles + Mochi” campaign, Gordon said, fits with what the school district is doing in terms of encouraging healthy eating and cooking.

“Having kids cook together with their parents and learning those healthy skills together fits really nicely as part of our ongoing family and community engagement,” Gordon said. “It also fits with our formal curriculum where we have an executive chef on staff to make sure that our school meals taste good and our dietitian and others who actually teach programming around healthy nutrition throughout the year and into the summer as well.”

The meal kits will be sourced and assembled by Washington, D.C.-based socially conscious food service company Genuine Foods, and will include recipes inspired by the Waffles + Mochi show. The campaign is being support by Walmart, meal-kit delivery company Blue Apron and Bounty.

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