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HOPE for good health in Oakland

September 17, 2004

Photo of HOPE co-founder Ed James coating pieces of barbequed organic chicken with sauceEast Oakland natives Tony Douangviseth and Ed James have launched a whopper of an attack on fast food and they're asking their friends and neighbors to join them. The two undergraduate students spent the summer serving up nutritious meals in an effort to improve the health of their community.

"Guns, drugs, those things aren't the biggest problems in Oakland," says Douangviseth, an aspiring teacher. "The No. 1 killer is heart disease."

Douangviseth and James, both undeclared majors, say that when it comes to eating in and around their neighborhood, options are largely limited to fast food restaurants and liquor stores. In fact, the two longtime friends were sharing a meal in a burger joint late one night when they decided there had to be a way to eat more healthfully and help other people do the same.

Last year the students teamed with the East Bay Comunity Law Center to launch HOPE Enterprises (Helping Oakland's People Eat). They began by surveying the eating habits of young people in their city. At Oakland's Castlemont High School, for one, they discovered that students polled were largely dissatisfied with cafeteria food and opted instead, at least once a week, for fast food. More than half picked up lunch at a local liquor store.

The SFSU students spread the word about the importance of good nutrition at local schools. "We had to practice what we preached," Douangviseth says. The two gathered information on healthful eating, changed their diet and started working out on a regular basis. Douangviseth says young students have a lot to learn, recalling that when he and James shared the nutritional value of fast food hamburgers, one audience member asked, "We can still have Chicken McNuggets, right?"

This summer he and James took HOPE a step further. With the help of a $25,000 California Endowment grant distributed by the Alameda County Public Health Department, they set up shop at the East Oakland Millsmont Farmers Market , dishing out healthful and inexpensive meals to members of their community.

"We knew they wouldn't go for tofu burgers," Douangviseth says. Instead, they took a new spin on a popular item: barbeque. The HOPE meal consisted of barbequed organic chicken in a light sauce on a wheat roll, fresh fruit and a low-fat potato salad, topped off with a glass of freshly squeezed lemonade. All for only $3 -- a true super-value meal.

During the 10-week pilot project, Douangviseth says that lines started to form before they opened their stand, and there would always be a few disappointed customers who arrived after the last sandwich had been served.

Although funding has run out, the two students want to keep HOPE alive. If they can secure additional grant money next spring, they plan to expand their efforts to local recreation centers where families could learn more about healthy eating and pick up low-cost meals.

"Too many times we only think about ourselves," Douangviseth says. "But if everyone did their own little piece, we wouldn't have so many problems."

-- Adrianne Bee


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Last modified September 17, 2004 by University Communications