Aetna Foundation Grant Helps Cultivate Health

Aetna Foundation

First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) has received a $100,000 grant through the Aetna Foundation’s Cultivating Healthy Communities program to conduct a new project titled “Bridging Native Producers to Retail Outlets in Native Communities.” The project aims to increase availability of healthy and fresh foods, particularly those from local Native producers, at retail outlets in three Native American communities. The project runs through March 2019.

The Cultivating Healthy Communities program awarded over $2 million in grants to 25 nonprofit organizations in 14 states to advance the Aetna Foundation’s mission to improve health at the local level. Grantees are working on projects that will address social determinants of health such as improving access to healthy foods, promoting biking and physical activity, and reducing exposure to air and water contaminants. The grantees were chosen based on the strength of their strategies to improve the health of their communities in at least one of five domains: healthy behaviors, community safety, built environment, social/economic factors, and environmental exposures.

Through financial grants of $15,000 each, plus capacity-building technical assistance and the design of an evaluation system, First Nations will support the Diné Community Advocacy Alliance (serving the Navajo Nation) and tribally-run retail outlets associated with Cochiti Pueblo and Red Willow Center (serving Taos Pueblo), both in New Mexico. The grants will be used for marketing, food-storage infrastructure, food sourcing from local producers, or other needs to increase the retail sales of healthy and fresh foods. Through these activities, First Nations hopes to address those communities’ status as “food deserts” and the Native population’s higher-than-average rate of diet-related diseases.

“Native American communities in New Mexico – and others nationally – are in food deserts where access to healthy and nutritious food is difficult at best, and this contributes to high food insecurity and a prevalence of issues such as diabetes, heart disease and obesity,” noted Raymond Foxworth, First Nations Vice President. “This project hopes to accomplish several things: improve access to healthy foods and increase healthy consumer behaviors, incentivize local retailers to carry and promote more fresh and nutritious food items in their outlets and, finally, to boost local economic development by expanding nearby market opportunities for local producers growing healthy food items, especially since much of the food sold on tribal lands is brought in from outside sources. It’s ambitious, but we feel it can succeed and perhaps become a model for other Native communities facing similar issues around the U.S.”

“The Aetna Foundation is committed to addressing the social determinants of health in order to reduce health disparities,” said Dr. Garth Graham, President of the Aetna Foundation. “By identifying community-specific challenges, and unique ways to combat them, this year’s grantees are a shining example of organizations who strive to make a measurable and positive local health impact. We are honored to contribute towards the great work they are doing in pursuit of health equity.”

Ahead of the project launch, a professional evaluation consultant will collaboratively develop evaluation tools and processes to assess progress, outputs and outcomes. During the effort, First Nations staff members and consultants will provide technical assistance. After project completion, a nationally-disseminated report will be issued that shares project learnings and best practices.

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