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Leading the Healthy Retail and Safe Routes to School Work

Staff Perspective Sonali Suratkar

Dear Get Healthy SMC partners,  

I am Sonali Suratkar, a Community Program Specialist for the CalFresh Healthy Living, an effort that aims to make the healthy choice, the easy choice.  I recently joined the Health Policy and Planning (HPP) program and it feels great to be part of the dedicated and forward-looking team. As a Community Program Specialist, I lead the Healthy Retail program that advances equitable access to healthy foods and beverages in low-income neighborhoods and the Safe Routes to School program, which promotes safety around schools. In addition, I oversee and support the evaluation of the CalFresh Healthy Living programs. 

Through the Healthy Retail program, I work with stores in East Palo Alto and North Fair Oaks to support their business and promote healthy foods and beverages to their customers. Gaining the trust and confidence of small businesses and their customers is crucial and takes time. With persistence, regular visits and promotional events the partnerships have become stronger. Recently, we were able to set up healthy checkout counters to highlight and increase the sale of healthy choices through healthy impulse purchases. We continue to explore new ways to engage the community in developing culturally appropriate messages and promoting healthy choices.   

The Safe Routes to School program is a cross-sector collaborative effort with the CalFresh Healthy Living, Office of Education, Transportation Authority, school/district staff and Parent Teacher Student Associations to promote safe walking and biking to schools. Using HPP’s Creating Safer Streets Near Schools Report as a reference, we support high-priority and interested schools and districts to apply for funding and implement program activities such as walk or roll to school events, bike rodeo, school assembly, walk audits to name a few. We are working to enroll and support more schools through new partnerships. 

With the expertise and rich experience the HPP team offers, I look forward to learning and contributing to more sustainable system level changes, expanding the network of our partners and clients, and supporting policy work to address health equity.   

In partnership,