Bronx Health REACH (BHR) faith and nutrition consultant, Loyce Godfrey, has been working with faith-based participants in the Healthy Children, Healthy Families program over the past two years. The Health and Human Services, Office of Minority Health funded initiative aims to reduce childhood obesity. Loyce developed the curriculum and trains faith-based leaders to teach the nutrition program. She has a long history working with Bronx Health REACH as a faith-based community leader and creator of the Fine, Fit and Fabulous program, one of our most successful health promotion programs. BHR’s Healthy Children, Healthy Families Program Manager, Emily Oppenheimer spoke with Loyce about her commitment to health, nutrition, and faith based organizations in the Bronx.
How did you get your start in health and nutrition?
I attended Tuskegee University and studied nutrition. It took me a while to graduate from college because I got involved in the civil rights movement. Before graduation, I was hired for a job in New York City. I started my first job as an assistant manager at Chock Full o’ Nuts. I was the first African American woman hired there in a management position. At the time there were no explicit policies addressing sexual harassment in the workplace when I was sexually harassed by some of the male colleagues there. It became uncomfortable for me to work there, so I left the company.
From there, I got my start with community-based jobs. I went into child daycare dietetics. I even owned my own daycare center for a while. Then I got involved with seniors. Mid-Bronx Senior Citizens Council decided they wanted to start a catering service, so I worked with them to get that up and going.
I worked on opening the first SAGE Center in New York. (SAGE Center is the first full-time LGBT senior center in the country that offers services and programs related to arts and culture, fitness, food and nutrition, and health and wellness). I wrote operating nutrition services procedures, led trainings, secured permits, found a caterer to comply with requirements for meal serving, established record keeping, etc. I have also worked with City Meals on Wheels creating a healthy heart kitchen for seniors and have just completed a project for seniors who may have oral health challenges.
At one point you co-owned a store that featured arts, crafts and clothing imported from Africa.
Yes, I was a partner. It was a very healing, holistic experience. I have always liked to explore and visit faraway places. It may have come from growing up in a small town. I was interested in other parts of the world where black people lived. I liked some of the cultural aspects that were so authentic, like the wood-carved furniture. There were lots of cultural activities in NYC, and through that network I met a woman from West Africa who needed help with her store.
How did you connect with Bronx Health REACH?
Joyce Davis (one of the early leaders of BHR) and I worked together at Mid-Bronx Senior Citizens Council. During one of our conversations, I told her about a new ministry I had started at my church around healthy topics and nutrition. She told me that she was involved in a similar project with churches and BHR. She invited me to attend a BHR meeting. At the meeting church leaders were sharing updates on their work. When I spoke about what I was doing, Charmaine (Charmaine Ruddock, Project Director of BHR) said, “That’s exactly what we are trying to do!”
For me, this was my first time hearing about government funding opportunities for these projects. I knew health was a major concern in the Bronx so I would share my work at these meetings. I began consulting with BHR by providing workshops and assistance. I discovered that people who attended my church meetings would go eat at Popeyes afterwards. That felt so disconnected from the program I was leading with them. I bet that most of the women who attended the meeting had diabetes, heart disease or some other chronic disease. I was very concerned, so I thought, how could I get my point across so that those attending would no longer go to Popeyes afterwards? How could I combine the faith-based piece with the health behavior to change motivations? How could we align these two key principles? This led me to work on Fine, Fit and Fabulous.
What is a heritage food?
All of the heritage foods are real foods. All come from plants, from the ground. None of them were processed. After being brought to this country, many of those foods are still used in their original natural form.
The aim of our Healthy Children, Healthy Families program is to get families to eat more nutritious foods. What kinds of changes have you seen so far?
One of the barriers to eating healthier is the disconnect people have between real foods/heritage foods and processed junk foods. We are looking to show Bronx families that food, in its natural form, has not changed over the years. It is still the best nourishment for them. These real foods were so important for many generations. These foods sustain people and promote health. The goal is to get people to eat more real, healthy foods. For the families that have participated in the Healthy Children, Healthy Families programs, we are seeing more interest in eating vegetables and fruits. I am optimistic about seeing more of these positive changes. The excitement, cooperation, and passion of the churches is inspiring. Helping these churches to keep that energy alive after the program ends is so important and I think we can do it. For example, one of our church partners has a garden and I see that as a way for them to continue this work to grow and eat God’s real foods.