Building a healthy community from within

Monday, May 6, 2024

From rethinking food options at out of school programs to showing young people how much fun food can really be, the Healthy Kids Advisors initiative has been delivering creative solutions by people who know their communities best. This intimate knowledge of place and people has helped bring about meaningful and lasting change embraced by local schools, sports clubs and more.

Growing up in Orbost, on Gunaikurnai Country, East Gippsland’s Healthy Kids Advisor Kristina Stafford knew the lay of the land intimately when she started talking to members of the community about the changes they’d like to see – and the help they needed – to ensure access to fresh and healthy food.

This collaborative approach has helped bring small but meaningful change to the town, home to 4000 people, that has faced its fair share of hard times over the last few years. Recently, the East Gippsland community have worked together to overcome devastating floods and fires, plus the lingering effects of the pandemic, and so, were eager to embrace Kristina’s offer for the chance to have hands-on support.

“I just went in with the whole community in mind, and asked, ‘What do you need? What can I support you with?’” explains Kristina. “And once people realised I could help them achieve their goals, they were really excited by it.”

This approach meant Kristina could act as a link between the community to help create connections and start conversations.

Kristina took a hands-on and enthusiastic approach to food education, focusing on creating a ripple effect with each action. She ran sushi and smoothie-making activities at the Moogji Youth Group. Here, she found young people excited to learn new skills, and take these ideas home with them as well. 

“We had recipe cards for participants to take with them, and they really embraced it,” Kristina says. “I'd hope now that they'd be a bit more confident to make it at home themselves.”



By introducing the idea of smoothies and supplying the youth group with a blender, it means that when they hold a community event, they can offer a fresh alternative to hiring a fast-food van. This same approach has also been applied to other sporting and community events, like the Orbost Halloween Community Event, where alongside small treat bags the young people had a table of tasty snacks to choose from including cheese, vegetable sticks and dips, fresh fruit and popcorn. 

Amber Wade, who runs the Moogji Aboriginal Council’s Youth Group, saw first-hand how beneficial this approach to food education has been for the community. “The education that was provided by Kristina helped our young people understand the benefits of a healthy balanced diet and how delicious it is,” she says. “Many of our young people had very limited understanding about food prep and now they have some basic skills to use in the home.”

“More broadly,” Amber adds, “Kristina has been an amazing mentor for our young people – from supplying needed equipment to educating them on how to use it. This has been used for fundraising events and our now weekly ‘drop-in day’ for banana smoothies.”

Working closely with Reclink, the facilitators of Orbost’s Out of School Hours Care (OSHC), Kristina helped advise on incremental but meaningful changes, like swapping out BBQ Shapes for popcorn. The aim was for young people to be able to experience this consistent access to fresh food and drinks across various aspects of their lives. Engaging the community in this measured and gentle approach, Kristina ensures a lasting impact within groups like Reclink, with long term sustainability.  

“Orbost has benefited from Kristina’s support across various programs, including after-school activities and community events,“ says Reclink Sports Coordinator Sara Stres, who will continue applying Kristina’s strategies into the future. “Throughout 2023, Kristina was pivotal in assisting our organisation to encourage Orbost youth at our after-school program to adopt healthier foods in a fun and inviting way. This included sourcing recipes that were able to be youth-lead, allowing the kids attending to be active in exploring new foods and learning how to prepare them. Additionally, Kristina has been incredibly helpful in directing my colleagues and I in choosing easy and quick foods to offer the youth alongside our programs.”

 About the Healthy Kids Advisors initiative 

The Healthy Kids Advisors initiative is delivered by the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation and supported by the Victorian Government and Australian Government. 

This community engagement initiative is active in 13 priority communities to spread pleasurable food education and encourage participation in the state-wide Vic Kids Eat Well movement. 

In collaboration with local health promoters, Council and community, our Advisors offer free support and simple ideas to boost healthy and delicious food and drink in schools, sports clubs, after-hours care and council-run facilities. 

Want more information?

Visit the Healthy Kids Advisors news page or contact us at

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