One is a fitness trainer with a passion for helping people add exercise into their day. The other is a foodie with a penchant for sharing healthy eating with others. A mutual friend put the two of them together, and the result is the Fit and Food Connection, an organization that offers free fitness classes, nutrition education and a food pantry/food delivery service to selected families in North St. Louis city and county.
“We are pretty much an all-volunteer organization,” said cofounder Joy Millner. Their work takes them into senior homes, apartment complexes and other areas throughout the community, she said.
Millner and Gabi Cole currently operate out of Believer’s Temple Church at 2115 Chambers Rd. in Ferguson. That’s where Millner has been teaching “her baby” for seven years – a health class every Monday evening from 5:30-6:30 p.m.
“You can come anytime. Sometimes we’re inside, sometimes we’re outside – it changes every single week, but the bottom line principle is the same,” Millner said.
“In that one hour, we will stretch and we will de-stress, because you can’t be healthy when you’re stressed. We do a very brief education on something. Then we do a pretty intense 20-minute workout for all levels. Then we do some core work. We do a positive thought of-the-day. And then I feed them.” Millner cooks for 30 people every single Monday.
“I send them home with a healthy snack, a healthy recipe,” Millner added. “We show them exactly what it looks like. We feed them crops every Monday from our garden and our partner gardens. And so it’s really this whole holistic healing. They leave feeling energized from these different things that we teach them.”
The Fit and Food Connection recently received a $19,500 grant from the St. Louis Women’s Fund to move 30 families off their waiting list and into their fitness and nutrition services.
“It’s been such a shining moment for us. We’re going to spend the next year really taking care of these families,” Millner said.
On a video posted online and to the organization’s website, cofounder Gabi Cole described how volunteering brought her to this mission of food and nutrition.
“We don’t have these resources in our communities,” she said. “We don’t have grocery stores; we don’t have healthy food resources.”
Additionally, transportation is a major issue for individuals and families who live in food deserts – communities without grocery stores – particularly families in need with few resources. Video testimonials on their website describe the difference they are making for those in need.
“Sometimes it’s hard for me to get back and forth to pantries, because of how far it is located and transportation,” client Lavonda Davis said.
Millner said individuals can get on its waiting list for the food delivery services by calling its emergency food hotline at 314-649-7367.
“What ya’ll give me is enough for me, you know – and take care of me and my needs. It’s nice,” food delivery recipient Christine Evans said via video. With the monthly food delivery service, Evans said does not have to try to find a ride or walk to get to a pantry.
Those who struggle for the basics may be simply looking for something to eat – deprived of the luxury of considering the food’s nutritional benefit. Via video, board member Whitney Jones said the Fit and Food Connection makes that link for them.
“With this organization, they make sure that we’re giving them food that is healthy, that is going to give them the vitamin E, vitamin A, vitamin D and iron that they need daily to grow to be healthy and to maintain a healthy lifestyle,” Jones said.
The organization holds classes in multiple locations. Millner said its Chair Yoga class has been underway on Wednesdays at 4 p.m. at the St. Louis County Library at 10267 St. Charles Rock Road in St. Ann for the last six months and will continue through September. Tennis lessons are offered for anyone interested in picking up a racquet.
“We just kicked off our fifth annual tennis program,” Millner said. “Every Sunday, all summer, we’re teaching people how to play tennis. That takes place at St. Vincent Community Center tennis court” at 7335 St. Charles Rock Rd. Tennis lessons are from 5- 6:30 p.m. Millner said just call the office (314-312-2746) in advance so they know how many are expected to attend.
Small grants, donations and volunteers are what maintain this connection. This includes individuals who perform administrative functions or offer personal training, grocery store education, food preparation and nutrition guidance at no cost for families in need.
Like many service organizations, Fit and Food Connection has its own needs that need to be met to further its service to the community, like funding for a building and staff.
“We honestly want a building of our own,” Millner said. “We would love to have our own home. We would love to have an employee to take some of the load off of Gabi and me, like a director of operations. On a much smaller scale, we really need delivery drivers on Sunday afternoons and we just really need healthy food. The more drivers and food we have, the more families we can reach.”
For more information on Fit and Food Connection, email firstname.lastname@example.org, call 314-312-2746 or visit https://fitandfoodconnection.org. The Fit and Food Connection’s Emergency Food Hotline is 314-649-7367,