Community Leaders Convene for Prayer Breakfasts on National Eating Healthy Day

Every year on National Eating Healthy Day, the American Heart Association encourages all Americans to commit to healthier eating with a goal of lowering risks for heart disease and stroke. However, not all communities have access to healthy and nutritious food. More than 3.4 million Texans lack adequate access to grocery stores, forcing many to rely on heavily processed foods that contribute to higher rates of obesity and diet-related diseases. The Voices for Healthy Kids Texas Team led National Eating Healthy Day Prayer Breakfasts in Dallas, Houston, and the Rio Grande Valley, convening community leaders and advocates to discuss how to help solve this problem in their communities and statewide.



In North Texas, the Prayer Breakfast was held at the Baylor Scott & White Diabetes Health and Wellness Institute in South Dallas, and nearly 70 guests attended. This Breakfast provided a forum for Dallas area faith leaders, non-profit organizations, and health care professionals to discuss food access policy from the economic, faith, health, and equity perspectives.

“The kingdom of God is made manifest in the meeting of one another's needs. Sadly, in our world, many people are hungry. Many lack access to healthy food, and often that is tied to income, where they live, the color of their skin. That is not how God intended our world to be. It is a manifestation of injustice. Of brokenness. But when we act to correct this fundamental wrongness, we make heaven manifest where hell was flourishing. We choose the Kingdom of God over the brokenness man has created. And what Jesus promises is that he is in that process, and that work will be completed,” said Pastor Wes Helm, Associate Pastor, Springcreek Church.


Dr. Donald Wesson, President, Baylor Scott & White Diabetes Health and Wellness Institute, served as the keynote speaker at the prayer breakfast. Dr. Wesson underscored the relationship between access to healthy food and population health conditions. According to Dr. Wesson, “We need to view grocery access through a lens of health. It’s not just about poverty… improving access to healthy food will require engagement of government officials in discussions about hunger, health, structure, and policy.”

Health Equity was a prominent theme at the event. According to Dr. Yolanda Lawson, Region V Trustee, National Medical Association, “Health equity can only be achieved when every person has the opportunity to attain his or her full health potential and no one is disadvantaged from achieving this potential because of social position or other socially determined circumstances.”

The event was an opportunity for leaders to advocate on behalf of vulnerable, underserved communities that lack adequate access to healthy food options. “There is something wrong with policy that robs people of hope, and to deny people access to basic human needs based on their location in a community, is doing just that,” said Reverend Gerald Britt, Jr., Vice President, External Affairs, CitySquare.



The Houston Prayer Breakfast was held at Fountain of Praise, and spurred substantive conversation among existing and future community partners. Amanda DeJesus, an AHA National Spokeswoman, kicked off the event. She was followed by James Caruthers, Senior Staff Attorney at Children at Risk who delivered the purpose and set the tone for the morning. The next speaker was Co-Pastor Mia K. Wright, Director of Ministries, Fountain of Praise, who was a hit with the crowd! 


Some of the best remarks of the morning came from State Representative Dr. Alma Allen and Dr. Jasmine Opusunju, Executive Director of CAN DO Houston.

State Representative Dr. Alma Allen spoke of the great work that is being done in the community, but challenged the audience to get involved in food access. As a long-time educator, she spoke to the importance of raising children in healthy environments inside and outside of school. She also reminded us that not everyone has the ability to drive across town in search of a healthy meal, and that some families are simply concerned with securing their next meal.

Dr. Jasmine Opusunju spoke to CAN DO, Houston’s work on the local level related to Healthy Corner Stores, and spoke to the importance of building collective power so that more families and communities can have adequate access to healthy food. She emphasized that, together, we can help families overcome the barriers of accessibility and affordability in order to live longer, healthier lives.


Rio Grande Valley

With a strong culture focused on traditions of food and family in the Rio Grande Valley, the advocates gathered for discussion at Texas A&M Health Science Center in McAllen on November 2nd reflected on this challenge and networked with other community leaders and organizations addressing healthy food access in the Rio Grande Valley.

Faith leaders focused on the importance of healthy food access with the audience of 70 community members. Dr. Art Cavazos, Superintendent of Harlingen CISD, delivered a compelling address on why healthy food access is so critical to future generations of the Valley, and what he is doing in Harlingen to stem the tide of obesity amongst students and parents. Several public health leaders in the community participated in a panel to illuminate how attendees could contribute. Following the event, a group of advocates, including a nurse from Methodist Healthcare Ministries in McAllen and several Working on Wellness Coalition student members from Weslaco High School, met with local Texas lawmakers on the issue of policies to increase healthy food access during the 85thLegislative Session. Here are selected remarks from special guests:

Sister Norma Pimentel, Executive Director, Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley:

“Unfortunately, some of the health issues we see a lot, diabetes and hypertension, are all major health concerns we have here in our Valley, and oftentimes this can be prevented by healthy eating and exercise. This is something that we, as leaders in our Valley… can help promote encourage healthier lifestyles and encourage our families to eat healthy and make healthy food accessible.”


Dr. Art J. Cavazos, Superintendent, Harlingen Consolidated Independent School District:

“It’s imperative we do what we can to stem the tide of obesity. This will only be possible if our communities have access to grocery stores. We must eliminate our food deserts and create oases of [food] access for our communities… Kids are anxiously waiting for the adults to get it right. They are ready. We just have to create the systems to make it happen. That is our responsibility; that is our charge.”


Imam Noor Ahmad, Masjid Umar Al-Farooq Mosque, McAllen:

“Everything we do in this world has a direct effect on us, and the generations to come… We know our actions come from the heart… That is also true of the physical heart... If our physical heart isn’t healthy, can we go around and help others? We can’t… there is nothing we can do.” 

Rabbi Claudio J. Kogan, MD, MBE, MEd, Temple Emanuel, McAllen:

“We are renting our lives, and should do the best we can to maintain our bodies… As a professor and medical doctor at UTRGV, [I share with my students that] one-third of the population in the Valley suffers from diabetes, one-third is misdiagnosed, and one-third will never know... If we can save a life, we are saving the world.”


Rev. Robert A. Perales, M.Div., Associate Pastor, McAllen First United Methodist Church:

“Get connected, get informed, and be willing to give just a little bit more of yourselves, and of your time and of your resources, to impact our communities… We pray as we can give thanks for what we have… let that be a means of encouragement and a means of hope to propel us forward for those who do not have fruit, not just on their tables but within walking distance of their homes. [God has] called us not only to be stewards of our own bodies, but of our communities.”

Rose Timmer, Executive Director, Healthy Communities of Brownsville, Inc.:

Rose moderated the panel consisting of Barbara Storz, M. S., Founder and Market Coordinator, Growing Growers Farmers Market, Evelia C. Castillo, Program Coordinator, Working on Wellness Coalition, School of Public Health, Texas A&M University, Elaine Hernandez, Regional Director, Texas Hunger Initiative, and Christopher Walker of the American Heart Association. She shared, “There are many, many people with no transportation and no way to access food, and I think it’s really a wonderful cause that we’ve come together to support today."


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