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Bounty & Soul's tagline - "nourishing, inspiring, teaching, connecting" - were in full display Oct. 26 as it hosted a one-of-a-kind community event, Felicidad y Salud.

The celebration of health and wellness and rich culture of the Latino community in Western North Carolina was part of the growing Latino outreach program of Bounty & Soul, which strives to improve the health of needy local residents through better nutrition. Volunteers at the nonprofit organization hope it will become an annual tradition.

On a warm fall afternoon, guests from around the Swannanoa Valley gathered to learn about the myriad services and Spanish resources available to them. In the Owen Middle School cafeteria, vendor tables showcased the offerings of local businesses and nonprofits. Represented were resources like dental, social and family services, prenatal health, wellness, and school enrichment.

Colorful flowers and balloons hung from signs and railings around the event space; complementary orange gift bags were given to participants. Samples of healthy food, along with recipes, were available. Black bean corn salad with avocado and rainbow noodle salad were offered up.

The Bounty & Soul produce market truck welcomed guests at the front entrance, giving fresh vegetables to guests, just as it does at five free produce markets around the Valley each week.

Maia Price from Asheville Buncombe Community Christian Ministry talked about the organization's medical ministry, which welcomes Latino residents who may not have insurance. She told them how to get signed up for services and about the complementary flu shots available. "It is easy to get established if you live in Buncombe County; we see Latino patients every day and welcome more" she said.

In the midst of all the activity, guests of all ages enjoyed each other while eating and learning.  The middle school's newly landscaped courtyard drew guests outdoors for activities and children's activities and dining. Face painting, art and interactive recreation kept the younger guests entertained. All the activity stopped when the winning raffle tickets were announced.

Among the volunteers were students from Buncombe County Early College; they ran the food buffet line, serving fare of fajitas and fixings donated by area restaurants.  Others included  students from Asheville Christian Academy and UNC Asheville, who made community connections, learned about the culture and fulfilled service learning time.

It was a rich time of family fellowship and culture for Alex Batalla, a 9th-grader at Owen High. He visited with his mom, Ofelia Sanchez, and his aunts and cousins over dinner in the courtyard. Alex translated for his smiling family members. All of them had a great time, he said.

"The best part has been all the good information we got here," Ofelia said.

Bounty & Soul's Latino outreach program seeks to acknowledge and honor all Spanish-speaking communities and to listen to and learn from them to better understand how their needs can be supported, said Ali Casparian, Bounty & Soul's founder.

"The event was very valuable for us to candidly hear what it is like for them and what they need," she said. Bounty & Soul provides a free weekly produce market in Swannanoa, where 98 percent participants are Latino, many of them living along U.S. 70.

One of the most valuable parts of the Oct. 26 event was the connect and share session, where Latinos spoke of obstacles and barriers and brainstormed with facilitators about possible solutions. Bilingual students from Buncombe County Early College facilitated and translated the sessions.

Bounty & Soul thanked Diana Glass, who helped organize the Oct. 26 event and who has helped create a partnership with Swannanoa Valley Christian Ministry's Latino outreach. Bounty & Soul also extended thanks to Owen Middle School for serving as the event venue, to the many volunteers and Community Foundation of Western North Carolina for supporting its Latino Outreach Program through the Black Mountain Swannanoa Valley Endowment Fund.

Bounty & Soul is a nonprofit hunger relief organization that serves the greater Swannanoa Valley, providing fresh produce and health and wellness resources to families and individuals in need through five weekly food markets. For more, visit bountyandsoul.org or contact 419-0533.

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