Improving nutrition and increasing physical activity across the commonwealth

Nuria Gracias-Sung and her son, Nathan, have become healthier with the help of Virginia Cooperative Extension’s Family Nutrition Assistance program.

Like many mothers with young children, Nuria Gracias-Sung is interested in helping her son eat healthier and get more exercise.

Fortunately, Gracias-Sung crossed paths with Angie Helm, a Virginia Cooperative Extension Family Nutrition Program assistant for Montgomery, Pulaski, and Giles counties.

Helm met Gracias-Sung at the New River Health District’s Farmacy Garden, where Gracias-Sung was volunteering with her young son, Nathan. The Farmacy Garden is a collaborative program where participants can swap volunteer time in the garden for fresh fruits and vegetables.

Helm recruited Gracias-Sung to participate in one of the nutrition classes she offers through the USDA’s Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program.

“Many of my clients have a lot going on in their lives,” said Helm. “Nuria is very typical in that she is trying to be a good mother and wants to do the best for her family.”

Helm provided nutrition education that included topics such as reading food labels and choosing nutritious foods. They also discussed ways to be more physically active as a family, such as doing yoga together.

“Angie had games for Nathan. She would show him pictures of food and ask him if it was a good choice or bad choice, and she had him tell her why,” said Gracias-Sung. “Nathan would often come home and say, ‘Mommy, let’s do yoga.’”

The main goal of the program is to provide limited-income families with information to help them make their money and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits go further.

Last year, the Virginia Family Nutrition Program reached 9,962 people in 26 counties through the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program. Along with its 20 full-time employees, more than 240 trained volunteers contributed more than 1,740 hours of their time to the program.