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Crow Wing Energized grants help Garfield School adopt healthy initiatives for students

Volunteers cheer Garfield Elementary student walkers during the spring walk-a-thon fundraiser a walk-a-thon to raise funds for healthy initiatives. Submitted photo

As a physical education teacher at Garfield Elementary School, Dave Baloga is always searching for ways to educate his students on being active and healthy.

A few years ago he set up fitness stations on the playground. Each sign posted at the stations also provided nutritional tips. The next year the school received a Statewide Health Improvement Partnership grant through Crow Wing Energized to train staff on how to create an active recess and to buy playground equipment. An active recess encourages all students to

participate in games and activities while on the playground.

But Garfield's healthy initiatives didn't stop there. A staff team began to meet with representatives from Crow Wing Energized, as well as Carolyn McQueen, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program-Ed educator at the University of Minnesota Extension Services in Brainerd, to navigate the grant process and find ways to meet student needs.

Garfield Principal Jodi Kennedy came up with the idea of a healthy snack cart. More than half of

students at Garfield School qualify for free or reduced lunches. There are many students who don't come to school with a snack for snack time each day or they may bring an unhealthy one. Kennedy and her staff believed offering healthy snack options would educate students on making healthy food choices outside of school and help them focus better in school, too.

"They were coming in with Oreos, cookies and bags of Doritos," Kennedy explained. "It wasn't

necessarily going to nourish them and keep their brains thinking."

Garfield received a $2,500 SHIP grant in May 2016 to create a healthy snack cart. Students who need a healthy snack were sent to collaborative worker Traci Potvin's office to pick out a snack, which could be yogurt, carrots with ranch dip, fresh fruit, granola bar or other offerings. Baloga shopped for the snacks using the Minnesota Department of Education's food guidelines.

Kennedy said the school has about 400 students and about 80 to 120 students used the snack cart regularly this year.

"The snack cart was a need for our kids," said Baloga. "A lot of kids used it, and we didn't turn anyone away. My main hope is to expose kids to new foods they haven't tried and to encourage them to make healthier snack choices."

In late April, Garfield received a $500 sustainable SHIP grant to purchase shelving and storage for the snack cart, but the grant doesn't cover purchasing snacks. Baloga suggested the school host a walk-a-thon to raise funds this spring to keep the snack cart going and to fund other healthy initiatives. Snacks for the healthy snack cart cost about $1,500-$1,700 a year.

The walk-a-thon on May 12 raised about $7,000 for the snack cart. As a fundraiser, it was a success in many ways. Parents, grandparents and community members joined students to walk during the walk-a-thon, which provided a fun family activity that promoted physical activity. Students met their fundraising goals and won prizes. They also got to see Kennedy and Baloga, among other school staff, color their hair in crazy rainbow colors.

"This allows us to add some cool things at recess and gives us an opportunity to provide healthy snack options for kids," Kennedy said, of funds raised at the event. "It was an engagement activity that was really positive."

"They found a way to help sustain it, and that's a huge goal," McQueen said of Garfield's healthy

initiatives. "It's been so fun to be part of that."

Healthy Community Grant applications available online

Crow Wing Energized healthy community and school grant applications are available online to support healthy initiatives in Crow Wing County. The Healthy Community Grants, like those awarded to Garfield Elementary School in Brainerd, are made available through Statewide Health Improvement Partnership funding that was awarded to Crow Wing Energized. Sustainable grants are also available for organizations that have already received SHIP grant funding.

Contact Cassie Carey, coordinator at Crow Wing Energized, at for

more information or download the application files online at