Food Literacy Hero
We are so proud to shine a strawberry spotlight on an incredible woman who works tirelessly to help improve the lives of low-income families in Sacramento. Marching to the beat of the social justice drum, Ashlei Hurst is this month’s Food Literacy Hero!
Ashlei is the associate director of resident services of Mercy Housing, a national nonprofit organization that works to develop, finance and manage affordable housing for low-income families, seniors and people with special needs. She also is a community liaison between Leataata Floyd Elementary school (where the future Food Literacy Center’s Broccoli headquarters will be located) and the public housing community across the street. Ashlei trains our AmeriCorps members to understand the issues faced by our food literacy kids outside of the classroom so that they can better serve and support those kids.
“Ashlei’s passion for these kids runs deep, and she works closely with the school to ensure they have the supports they need to succeed in life, despite having to face some pretty difficult challenges,” said Amber Stott.
Before working for Mercy Housing, Ashlei served as a pastor whose faith lies in the central tenet of justice. Her favorite verse, Micah 6:8 calls Christians to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God. It guided her work as a pastor and still guides her at Mercy Housing today.
“This verse inspires me to do what is right; to fight for those who have been historically disenfranchised and treated differently,” Ashlei said. “It also inspires me to love people, to love my community and to lead by humbly serving others.”
Ashlei noted that one of the biggest challenges facing low income communities across the nation is their limited access to affordable and nutritious foods. Living in a food desert can have adverse effects on one’s health leading to chronic diseases, obesity and potentially high mortality rates. Ashlei believes that all families should have access to affordable healthy and fresh food. Since convenient stores are more prevalent in food deserts, she proposes there should be creative ways to get fresh produce in such stores for local residents. Another way to fight poor nutrition is by empowering students and their families with food literacy education to help them make informed food choices. That’s where folks at Food Literacy Center and our Americorp friends come in!
“At Leataata Floyd we seek to create a safe and loving community for our students, and the Food Literacy team is a part of that community,” said Ashlei. “They are not just passionate about veggies, but they are passionate about caring for kids. Whether they encourage a student to try something new, or smile and wave at a student in the afternoon, they are helping kids at Leataata Floyd feel empowered, loved and valued.”
Ashlei is a hero to many of the kids and families she serves but she counts Martin Luther King Jr. as her personal hero. His bold, visionary and non-violent approach in challenging the status quo inspired hope in her and many others all over the world. She shares this same hope with young people who aspire to be social justice warriors.
“The fight for social justice is not a career, it is an intentional lifestyle,” Ashlei said. “When a person decides to pursue justice and equity, it changes the way they view the world, the way they love and care for people, and it will change the decisions they make on a daily basis.”
In social justice work, patience is a virtue because long-lasting transformation in society takes time and can be met with many obstacles along the way. She encourages young social justice warriors to develop healthy boundaries and self-care strategies to protect themselves from emotional and physical exhaustion. Even though this work is not easy or glamorous, it is incredibly rewarding to do justice, love kindness and serve humbly.
For her extraordinary strength of character, unfailing belief and hope in the human spirit, deep love and respect for those who have been overlooked by society, and her many years of service to the disenfranchised, we are more than persimmon proud to honor Ashlei Hurst as our May Food Literacy Hero!
Story by Heather Teoh