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Medicine and Health

Two Health-Centered Projects Compete For Centre Inspires Grant

Anna Nelson with bike
Anna Nelson
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What would you do with $100,000 to transform your community?

The Centre Foundation is asking just that. The State College-based non-profit is offering $100,000 to a project proposal that will improve Centre County through their Centre Inspires grant. This year’s winner will be announced on Oct. 28, and two projects are being considered for the prize.

“Open Streets”

On a typical weekday morning in downtown State College, College Ave is congested with cars, buses and trucks. The familiar babel of traffic serves as a backdrop to one of Pennsylvania’s busiest college towns, but Anna Nelson has an idea to change this with a project called “Open Streets.”

"Open streets programs temporarily shut down streets in cities to cars and open them up for people. So they promote healthy, active living by saying ‘Hey, get on out there. Run,   walk, bike, hula hoop, do whatever you want in the street’,” Nelson said.

Nelson is vice president of Centre Bike. She says closing College Avenue to vehicle traffic would replace the typical traffic noises with the sounds of pedestrians. And there’d be classes and events meant to inspire activity.

“We’re envisioning free tai chi class or a yoga class. We’re also envisioning demonstrations. So maybe skateboarding or BMX,” Nelson said.

Nelson hopes that if her project is funded by the Centre Foundation, Open Streets will spread awareness about biking and alternative transportation, and will also bring the community closer together.

“You know, there’s something really powerful about standing in the middle of an empty street knowing you can do whatever you want,” Nelson said.

“Food Centres

But Nelson’s idea is not the only idea on the table. Jessie Pierce and Kevin Sims, founders of the Food Reclamation Network, have other plans. If Pierce and Sims win the grant, they’ll use it to combat food insecurity. Pierce says food insecurity is a problem in Centre County but many people don’t know what it is.

“Food insecurity is a state of not knowing where your next healthy meal is going to come from,” Pierce said.

More than 22,000 people in Centre County are classified as food insecure and Pierce and Sims think this could be improved by focusing on one key problem: food waste. In an attempt to salvage healthy food being wasted by stores, farms and restaurants, Pierce and Sims founded the Food Reclamation Network early last year.

With their network, Pierce and Sims transport excess food to food banks or pantries. Sims says a good example of what they salvage is leftover bread that is still safe and healthy to eat, but older than many stores would be willing to sell.

“There’s nothing wrong with day-old bread. And so we know that we can take that day-old bread and feed someone. Otherwise it goes to a garbage. The incentives kind of go all around,” Sims said.

But when trying to save bread, vegetables and perishable food items, Pierce says pantries struggle to store the food and keep it fresh.

“So we could bring them all the produce in the world but they wouldn’t be able to use it because they can’t store it,” Pierce said.

Pierce and Sims want to change this by building new "Food Centres" around Centre County. The centers will have a kitchen, cold storage and garden facilities to bring access to fresh food to people that need it. Pierce says there will also be space for people to learn about food.

“There will be many different types of food related classes. Everything from how to apply for SNAP food stamps benefits, to how to make your own kimchi,” Pierce said.

Regardless of funding from the Centre Foundation, Pierce and Sims hope to continue their food centers project with the Food Reclamation Network. But according to Sims, the Centre Inspires grant would certainly make the work easier.

“Funding is always an issue. Everyone’s donating time. Everyone’s doing everything. You’re often cutting corners because you’re having to get by with a smaller budget. Whenever any kind of funding opportunity comes by, you’re often like ‘Wow, that would really make it easier.’ One-hundred thousand dollars is pretty huge,” Sims said.

Sims believes access to healthy food shouldn’t be an issue in an area with rich agricultural resources, it should be a given.

“Us being able to access fresh, good food is something that just comes with being alive,” said Sims.

Food centers or open streets? The winning project will be announced on Wednesday, Oct. 28 at the Centre Foundation’s annual awards dinner. 

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