Over the past two years, local nonprofit Peoria Grown has teamed up with other area organizations to place handcrafted fruit stands at area community centers and schools. The goal is to provide easy access to fresh fruit for program participants—all while working with area artists.
“One of Peoria Grown’s missions is to make healthy food accessible for everyone,” explains Peoria Grown founder and executive director Julie Eliathamby. “We were looking for a way to encourage and motivate school-aged children to eat healthily because, from experience, we knew that most kids in the community do not get fresh fruit regularly.” With that in mind, they decided to place fruit stands in area schools and stock them weekly with fresh fruit, so students could grab healthy snacks throughout the day at no cost.
And then, an idea sparked an exciting collaboration. “A teacher at Lincoln Grade School, Hedy Elliott, thought we needed to make them stand out to get the kids’ interest, so she introduced us to Big Picture to decorate them,” Eliathamby recalls. James Kosner of the Peoria-based contractor JIMAX created beautiful wooden stands, and Big Picture Initiative paid local artists to turn them into unique works of art. Since May 2020, seven stands have been installed throughout the community, with another four stands going out by the end of 2021. They have distributed more than 50,000 pounds of fruit through these stands, assisting more than 2,000 students.
The stands have had a significant impact—many students are now asking for an orange, pear or apple instead of candy or potato chips. Peoria Grown’s long-term vision is to see the fruit stands placed in all of Peoria’s public schools and community centers, and to have enough funding to fill them with fruit more than once a week. PM