It’s hard to believe. In Washington, DC, the capital of one of the wealthiest nations in the world, one in seven households struggles to put food on the table. In some parts of the city, one in three children struggles with hunger. The numbers are staggering.

Enter Joyful Food Markets, pop-up grocery markets held in 21 elementary schools in District Wards 7 and 8. Launched in 2015, the monthly markets provide each enrolled student with up to 23 pounds of free, high-quality, healthy food. About 40 percent of the food is fresh fruits and vegetables.

Joyful Food Market volunteers

Joyful Food Market volunteers

The Joyful Food Markets is a program of Martha’s Table and the Capital Area Food Bank, two Washington, DC, nonprofits focused on supporting children and families battling economic challenges. The markets are free, fun, friendly community events featuring tables piled high with brightly colored, fresh produce and healthy nonperishable food.

“The Joyful Food Markets are community gatherings with music and joyful tasting tables,” says Caron Gremont, senior director of healthy eating at Martha’s Table. “Our markets feature kids’ cooking activities, recipe samples and chef-led culinary demonstrations designed to get children excited about healthy eating and cooking.” Just last month, Gremont adds, children could sit at one table and learn to prepare broccoli three different ways.

Gremont has spent most of her career in food and nutrition. A former vice president for Porter Novelli and a consultant to government and private clients, she has focused on using best practices of the business sector to encourage people to change their behavior and make healthier choices. Ultimately, she decided to work in the nonprofit sector and has been with Martha’s Table for a year and a half.

A Joyful Food Markets volunteer shows off a sack of carrots

A Joyful Food Markets volunteer shows off a sack of carrots

“I have a strong sense of justice and equality and the belief that every individual can help,” she says. “That is tied to my Judaism. There’s also a part of being Jewish that’s about not standing on the sidelines and understanding that everyone has an obligation and an opportunity to make changes to improve the world around us.”

Gremont says the year-round markets are a response to both the area’s widespread food insecurity and to the acute lack of access to healthy food. Wards 7 and 8 have dramatically fewer grocery stores than the rest of the city, the highest obesity rates and the highest rates of food insecurity, according to Gremont.

She estimates that each market provides food and hands-on style of education to approximately 150 families a month. By September, Gremont says, the markets will be open to more than 10,000 children and their families monthly. She adds that by 2018, Martha’s Table plans to expand the program so it will be in every public and charter elementary school in Ward 7 and 8—a total of 49 schools, impacting 15,000 children and their families.

Joan Nathan, award-winning Jewish cookbook author, serves on the Martha’s Table board. Nathan is a champion of the Joyful Food Markets. “It’s unbelievable how great the markets have become,” she says. “The key to their success is the fact that people within the community are helping each other. Local chefs participate and young volunteers help to give the markets a festive feel. There’s good music and lots of good fun. Good food should be a right for everyone. Not a privilege, but a right.”

To learn more about Martha’s Table programs and sign up to volunteer, click here