The Newman’s Own Foundation, founded by the late actor and philanthropist Paul Newman, announced on May 8, the formation of a Native American Nutrition Cohort, comprised of nine nonprofit organizations. According to a foundation release, the group “will focus on fresh food access and nutrition education in Native American communities around the country.”
As described in the foundation release, the Newman’s Own Foundation is providing $1.5 million in grants over two years to 10 organizations serving the Native American community, and nine will participate in the Nutrition Cohort. It’s part of more than $4.3 million in nutrition grants awarded in the last year. The cohort first convened on May 8 and 9 in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
The foundation also noted that this is the second Nutrition Cohort formed by Newman’s Own Foundation, aimed at creating greater impact through peer learning and collaboration. The focus is on Native American communities since food insecurity is especially severe among this population. Recent data suggest that 23% of Native households don’t have access to adequate food due to lack of money or other resources. Insufficient access to fresh and healthy food options leads to health-related problems, and up to 50 percent of Native AIAN (American Indian and Alaska Native) children are overweight or obese by the time they turn 10, the highest prevalence of any racial/ethnic group.
“Supporting these organizations reflects our long-time commitment of providing fresh food access and nutrition education for children and families, especially in under-served communities,” said Bob Forrester, President, and CEO of Newman’s Own Foundation in the release. “Too little attention has been paid to the Native American population and organizations serving those communities that are in the best position to know the real needs and how to address them.”
In an emailed statement to Indian Country Today, Kelly Giordano, Managing Director at Newman’s Own Foundation stated one of the foundations’ main focus areas was one of empowerment to Native communities.
“One of Newman’s Own Foundation focus areas is on empowerment, helping to empower those that have been left behind or found themselves in impoverished situations, many born into those situations through none of their own doing and just need that lift to make a better life for themselves,” said Giordano.
“There is so much good work going on in Indian Country by passionate people at nonprofits on the ground, and those organizations rely on philanthropic support to provide quality and impactful programming, but philanthropic support has historically been very low toward Native American causes, and continues to decline. If we can provide flexible funding for nonprofits to best meet the needs of their communities, and at the same bring attention to their work, and provide a platform for them to learn from each other and potentially collaborate, then hopefully down the road we will see real systems change. Just as we support other communities that are working to better their lives for generations to come, we feel strongly about supporting work in Indian Country. If we can provide a path for support, hopefully, other philanthropy will follow.”
Giordano also addressed the fact that Indian Country statistically has the highest rates of heart disease cancer and diabetes. She addressed health efforts that are to be included in the Native American Nutrition Cohort effort.
“All of the organizations in the peer learning cohort focus on some aspect of food access and nutrition education to combat all of the health issues that arise from a poor diet. These organizations are doing amazing work in increasing access to healthy and affordable food through farmers markets, community gardens or farms, food distribution, education including cooking classes and food prep, and it’s all community-driven by passionate local people,” said Giordano.
“The peer learning Cohort is a platform we can provide by bringing similar organizations together to share best practices, learn from each other’s successes and challenges to improve their own processes and programs, and discuss possible collaborations for the future to move the needle in their communities. Knowing that one organization cannot solve these large issues alone, it’s important to connect, convene, share, and collaborate. We hope the peer learning concept can help catalyze that.”
As the foundation further described, funding for each of the nonprofit organizations will help them address various needs in their communities, such as nutritious food access, nutrition education, guidance on healthy diets and food preparation, and organic gardening training. Participants in the Nutrition Cohort will convene several times over two years to share expertise and gain valuable insight from each other.
The peer learning model Cohort that Newman’s Own Foundation developed is aimed at helping to extend the benefits of experience beyond the individual reservations to other tribes. The innovative approach facilitates relationship-building and collaboration, and it provides leadership and organizational development opportunities. It is an innovative, non-prescriptive approach that is grantee-driven, rather than funder-driven, allowing participants to steer the direction and better serve their specific needs.
“Through our funding of local projects being run by those who know their communities best, we aim to support innovative models that can change systems and create healthier lives for generations to come. Through our convening and connecting grantees, especially with regard to the peer learning concept, we hope organizations will share, learn, and collaborate. And through talking with other funders or as part of interviews like this, we hope to bring greater attention to the needs of Native communities and how philanthropy can increase its support,” said Giordano.