Photo courtesy of Viridiana Ortiz

Members of the Canoga Park community building a community garden, one of several projects launched as part of Champions for Change. 

It has been two years since California State University, Northridge faculty, staff and students launched the Champions for Change – Healthy Communities Initiative in Canoga Park, with the help of a grant from the California Department of Public Health and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

In that time, community gardens have sprouted at more than a dozen sites; more than 70 community events have been held to educate people about healthy eating habits; and more than 400 classes have been conducted to teach school children, their families and other Canoga Park residents nutrition education and healthy living habits. In all, the initiative has touched the lives of more than 28,000 people.

“We have been very busy these past two years, but there is still a lot we’d like to do,” said Viridiana Ortiz, Project Coordinator of the Champions for Change – Health Communities Initiative in CSUN’s Marilyn Magaram Center for Nutrition, Dietetics and Food Science. “We have funding for the initiative for only three years, but we are hoping that by the end of that time we will have planted the seeds so that our efforts — which have been done in collaboration with the community — will continue and grow, and are flexible enough to respond to community needs as they change.”

To that end, officials at the Magaram Center in the College of Health and Human Development teamed up with officials at the university’s Institute for Community Health and Wellbeing and its Neighborhood Partners in Action (NPA) initiative. NPA is designed to help optimize Canoga Park’s resources, collect data about community needs and form partnerships to foster relations between residents, local businesses and the university. Together, the two enterprises helped take the Champions for Change initiative into nearly all corners of Canoga Park, from local churches and businesses to schools and centers that serve the elderly.

Initiative organizers also are working with Guadalupe Community Center’s food pantry, and a food pantry at the university, to procure fresh fruits and vegetables and provide patrons of the pantries with nutrition education. A task force made up of university personnel and community members has been created to ensure that the initiative is responding to the needs of the Canoga Park community.

CSUN students have conducted classes on developing healthy eating habits and cooking practices, helped establish community gardens, and attended weekly farmers market to distribute health information, including recipes for turning the produce being sold at the market into healthy, affordable family meals that respect cultural sensibilities.

The initiative, which was funded with an $880,000 grant from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health that supports a project to reduce obesity rates among low-income populations in Canoga Park that receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program-Education benefits. The grant aims to reduce obesity by providing nutrition education, promoting physical activity and working to create healthier environments for low-income individuals and families where they live, learn, work, play, pray and shop.