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WUWM's Susan Bence reports on Wisconsin environmental issues.

Coalition Plans to Fight Lead's Impact on Milwaukee Children Through Nutrition

Susan Bence
Milwaukee Public Radio
State Senator LaTonya Johnson spoke at Monday's Milwaukee Nutrition & Lead Task Force launch held at city hall.

The Hunger Task Force has been working to ensure people in Milwaukee don’t go hungry. On Monday, the agency staged a press conference with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to announce a new twist - through a campaign called Well Fed Means Less Lead

The USDA says kids who consume healthy food are less likely to absorb lead. So, organizers hope to better educate people on the risks of lead exposure - while delivering vitamin-rich food to more kids in Milwaukee.

Tim English is confident the USDA can help through its meal programs, by delivering foods rich in iron, Vitamin C and calcium, because a healthy diet can enable young bodies to absorb less lead.

So the regional administrator wants to expand the USDA’s outreach in Milwaukee.

"It’s about making sure that they’re participating in the SNAP program, they’re eating school breakfast and school lunch, the after school program. We had a special initiative over the summer, making sure the kids who may have otherwise in hungry in the summer, had a place," English says.

Milwaukeeans need to tap every resource possible to protect their children, according to state Senator LaTonya Johnson. So she’s glad a coalition of agencies are joining hands.

Credit Susan Bence
Young school children observed the press conference from above.

"Because government isn’t going to be sitting in that hospital with you or your kids when they test positive for lead. And you’re looking for those resources. And so the best defense against that is to make sure we do everything possible to make sure we aren’t leaving these families and these children out in the dark. And if I had to bet on a winner in this situation, I’m always going to bet on the community, because they do such a much better job of making sure the people of the community is protected," Johnson says.

Hunger Task Force executive director Sherrie Tussler has taken part in plenty of press events. Yet she says this one stood out in her mind, and not just because the lead issue is such a critical public health concern.

"Probably the most profound thing was that we had state and local agencies that all came together and talked about the same thing in s cohesive way. And they agreed that well-fed means less lead, and we can advance this cause in a reasonable way in our community," Tussler says.

Tussler says local groups are already willing to go door-to-door, to build community awareness.

She says an important lesson was learned in Flint, Michigan – where government leaders misled people about the presence of lead in their water. The key, according to Tussler, is that residents learn best from people they know and trust.

Susan is WUWM's environmental reporter.
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