Pear in Mind: A Blog in the Public Interest
CSPI “sat down” (virtually) with Ingrid De Santiago, Program Coordinator at Bay Area Communities Resources, to learn more about the organization's work building healthier food environments in the Bay Area. This blog is the first in a series of posts highlighting our campaign partner organizations.
Can you share a bit about the communities you serve?
Bay Area Community Resources (BACR) works with communities in and around the San Francisco Bay Area. As an organization, we’re committed to promoting healthy development among children, youth, and families; encouraging service and volunteerism; and contributing to the building of thriving communities.
Engaging Communities in Advocacy and Policy (ECAP) is a collaboration of BACR's direct action organizing projects around the Bay Area. We partner with communities that have been subject to redlining and other systematic policies that have resulted in health inequities. ECAP is driven to reduce health disparities using community-based participatory action research and advocacy to dismantle structural race-based barriers to health, amplify the voices of young people, stand up for social justice, and strengthen communities.
What are some of your key organizational accomplishments?
ECAP’s community participatory action research and advocacy programs have built capacity to reduce disparities around alcohol and other drug use, tobacco use and exposure, access to nutrition, juvenile justice, and immigration reform. These community mobilization processes have enacted the following policy systems and environmental changes: 1) Passage of the nation’s first Healthy Checkout ordinance, which set minimum nutrition standards for products sold at checkout in Berkeley (2020); 2) A ban on flavored-tobacco and the establishment of a minimum pack size in Livermore (2019), Richmond (2018), and San Pablo (2018); 3) A city-wide ban on electronic vaping devices in Livermore (2019) and Richmond (2019); 4) A smoke-free policy at Alameda County Fairgrounds (2014); and 5) The realization of salad bars in two Richmond elementary schools (2014).
Can you describe your campaign and the intended impact?
The mission of the Healthy Options at Point of Sale (HOPS) project is to build knowledge and power within communities to decrease sugary beverage and food placement, marketing, and promotion at checkout and to build a food landscape that improves access to healthy foods for all families across the Bay Area. We have HOPS programs currently in Richmond, Oakland, and Berkeley, each led respectively by an advocate team of young residents. Through community-based participatory action research, the team of advocates conducts research in their communities, sharing their knowledge, learning about the food landscape, and listening to the wants and needs of the broader community. Based on the information gathered, the youth develop and carry out a community education, mobilization, and advocacy plan that uplifts the voices of residents and advances community health.
What most are you looking forward to in this partnership with CSPI?
CSPI has been a long-standing partner in these campaigns. Partnering with CSPI in our initial HOPS campaign in Berkeley was immensely fruitful, resulting in the nation’s first Healthy Checkout Ordinance, which set minimum nutrition standards for products stocked at checkout. We are continuing our collaboration through efforts in Richmond and Oakland. The CSPI team brings real passion and expertise to the work. Working alongside them is always a pleasure, and it is one more way that our work connects with more than just the issues but with people. We are looking forward to sustaining and continuing to build a relationship that connects and uplifts healthy retail campaigns across the country.
What motivates you personally to do this work?
I am the coordinator for HOPS Richmond and the co-coordinator of the HOPS Berkeley program. Food and working with youth are two things that bring me the most joy and meaning. There is social justice to be had in any and every aspect of our lives, and it's my belief that we are most effective in achieving it in the places where we find joy. I also see it as my responsibility to equip young people with the tools and knowledge they may utilize to keep changing our futures. I think that policy is an important piece of the puzzle on the path to gaining food access and diminishing health disparities. The more young people from impacted communities that we engage in local politics-- a field that is often daunting and exclusionary-- the more community power we build to be able to address any needs we have.
How would you describe your team?
Our youth advocacy team is currently made up of nine brilliant and enthusiastic high school students from all around Richmond, and there are many other youth who have been involved previously. They are a team who care deeply about their community and have personal and family experiences with food apartheid and environmental, health, and economic injustice. These young people shine when taking action they believe in with like-minded community.
How are you centering strategies to engage and co-create with those most impacted by inequities?
As mentioned, we work by training and compensating local youth to advocate for their own communities. The advocates are people who have lived experience with the health disparities facing Richmond, a city that is made up largely by low-income families, immigrants, and people of color and is shadowed by the environmental and health impacts of the city’s port and oil refinery. The advocates put into practice critical thinking and grassroots campaigning as they engage with residents and local health professionals to build an effort that centers the desires and needs of the people. We aim to talk to as wide a range of residents as possible, with about 7 languages spoken within the advocacy team. Additionally, the team is guided by input from local food retailers to make sure that the impact on small family-owned businesses is accounted for throughout the entire campaign process.
What’s the best way for people to get involved in your campaign or work?
If you are interested in supporting Healthy Options at Point of Sale, please email me, Ingrid De Santiago, at email@example.com. We are always welcoming collaboration especially from residents, health professionals, food retailers, or young people in Richmond and Oakland.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.