As ye sow, so shall ye reap: An expansion of the Let's Move! campaign into faith-based and community organizations, with a goal of planting 10,000 new community gardens; completing a 3,000,000 mile walking campaign; creating 1,000 new summer feeding sites for children...
The White House has been transformed into a shining bully pulpit for healthy food and fitness since the Obamas took up residence almost two years ago, despite President Obama's many public dalliances with donuts and cream rolls. On Monday, during an afternoon conference call with leaders from across America, First Lady Michelle Obama took the Let's Move! campaign straight into the real pulpits of America, as she unveiled Let's Move Faith and Communities. As the name implies, the new initiative is designed to bring churches and synagogues and mosques into the Let's Move! fold, as well as every other kind of big-membership community organization that has a family base, such as scouting. (Above: Mrs. Obama and aides during the call)
"It's clear that when it comes to ensuring children's health and tackling childhood obesity in our communities, our faith-based organizations have a critical role to play," Mrs. Obama said during the conference call.
Just as Jesus created a miracle with a scanty amount of fishes and loaves that fed thousands, Mrs. Obama's new initiative looks to be a miracle of its own. With a soon-to-be launched new tool kit, and a series of ambitious concrete goals, there's an emphasis on boosting food access and affordability, and increasing fitness initiatives not just for thousands but for millions of citizens, with focused outreach that bridges every race, class, religion, and education level.
"You all play a vital role, being there for folks in the most important parts of their lives," Mrs. Obama told the leadership. "You all know how to inspire them to make positive changes in all aspects of their lives."
Faith based and community groups were critical for the President's election campaign in 2008, and that is a lesson that has not been forgotten by the White House. America's religious organizations are activist, they're effective, and they have a captive weekly audience, with a huge percentage of the US population identifying themselves as members of a faith.
Mrs. Obama was surrounded by staff as she made the call from her office in the East Wing. She was clearly thrilled to be unveiling the project, speaking warmly and chuckling frequently, as she announced the goals and challenges.
"This is an initiative I've been looking forward to since we launched Let's Move!," Mrs. Obama said.
Walking by faith and not by sight now has a whole new meaning, as does as ye sow, so shall ye reap, because the goals are major: 10,000 new community gardens planted; A three-million mile walking campaign; 1,000 new summer feeding sites for children; and the completion of 500,000 President's Active Lifestyle Award (PALA) challenges, and/or the establishment of new community exercise programs. Walking by faith and not by sight has a whole new meaning, as does as ye sow, so shall ye reap.
"The toolkit provides great ideas and healthy ideas for faith based and community leaders," Mrs. Obama said. "And a set of goals from counting number of miles walked to number of gardens planted, to the number of projects created."
>Download the Faith and Communities toolkit here
She noted that many faith and community groups have long done work for child health and for making food more accessible and affordable, whether it's by teaching during "Saturday and Sunday school," planting gardens on church or temple property, or through community outreach. And these projects have had a measurable positive impact.
"Like all of you, we here are real results focused," Mrs. Obama said. "Everything we do we try to measure."
Joshua DuBois, executive director of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, moderated the call; his office is leading the initiative, in conjunction with the Partnership Centers at the US Departments of Health and Human Services and the US Department of Agriculture. During the call, Mrs. Obama highlighted the work of community groups such as 4-H and Girl Scouts, but she focused particularly on the role of faith organizations.
"You don't just tend to spiritual needs in your congregations, but also to the physical and emotional needs of your people," Mrs. Obama said.
The First Lady gave a shout-out to Michigan's Peaches and Greens, a project of Central Detroit Christian Development Corporation, which among other things has a truck that sells fresh affordable produce around the city, and has convinced local liquor stores to stock fresh fruit and vegetables. She also noted the work of New York's Hazon, a Jewish organization that has created all kinds of teaching projects, to educate families on how to eat observantly and traditionally, but healthfully at the same time, as well as how to grow food. Both have joined the new initiative.
"That's how we work with Let's Move," Mrs. Obama said. "We support what's already working, we want to work with all of you, and we want to help you learn from each other."
During the call, leaders from several major groups announced pledges to rapidly make Mrs. Obama's goals a reality. Organizations as varied as the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, with 30,000 congregations across the US, to Girl Scouts USA with 3.4 million members, to the First AME Church of Los Angeles and its 19,000 congregants, to Presbyterian Church USA's Texas Impact and its fifty organizations, to the Jewish Community Center Association of North America, to the Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago each announced their own goals to help meet Mrs. Obama's challenge. The entire list of participating organizations is extensive, and the potential reach will be huge.
The Great Awakening with Artichokes: A Spring meeting at the White House, and a thank you for supporting child nutrition legislation...
The First Lady also announced a national convening for faith-based and community organization leaders that will take place at the White House in the Spring, to ensure that the groups continue to learn from each other, and that the White House gets feedback, too. Call it The Great Awakening with Artichokes, the Enlightenment With Eggplant, a Tent Meeting With Turnips.
"This is the best part of the work we do, to bring people together physically," Mrs. Obama said. "We can provide all the leadership, but it's you in the communities that are going to push this conversation to the next level."
The First Lady also thanked her listeners for their help in encouraging Congress to pass the pending childhood nutrition legislation.
"We are hoping that Congress will vote on and pass this bill before they leave for the winter holidays," Mrs. Obama said, noting that improving children's school meals is a critical part of the Let's Move! campaign. As the call wrapped up, Mrs. Obama thanked everyone again, and said "God bless you." She also promised to make some visits to members of the initiative.
"This is exciting, this is going to be good," Mrs. Obama said. "I plan on coming out to some churches and doing some walking."
"I walk fast," she added, to laughter from her staff.
*For information on how your organization can join the initiative, send an e mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
In April, the Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships held a Stakeholders Meeting with faith-based and community organizations to discuss what should be included in the new initiative. Supported by Partnership Centers from four federal agencies, the meeting gave leaders the opportunity to share ideas with the Administration on how faith and community-based organizations can partner with Let's Move! to help eradicate childhood obesity in a generation, and increase access to healthy and affordable food.
Related: Last Monday, Mrs. Obama formally launched Let's Move Salad Bars to Schools, a $15 million campaign to place 6,000 salad bars in schools that participate in the National School Lunch program. She's also launched Chefs Move To Schools, which pairs professional chefs with their local public schools; Let's Cook, which features Senior Policy Adviser for Healthy Food Initiatives Sam Kass cooking with guest chefs in the White House; Let's Move Outside, which encourages the use of federal conservation lands for fitness activities; Let's Move Cities and Towns, which is for city-wide initiatives; and a summer reading and fitness program, Let's Read Let's Move.
*Photo by Chuck Kennedy/White House