HOUSTON — This past Saturday, Sept. 22, Harris County Public Health (HCPH) fed 65 people for its first-ever Family Dinner Day. The event was hosted by HCPH’s North Harris County Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition, two days ahead of Family Day (Sept. 24) — a national effort to promote family dinners, and other quality time activities, as a means to reduce youth substance abuse.

“Research shows sharing meals as a family can help lower your child’s risk for smoking, alcohol or drug abuse,” said Dr. Sherry Onyiego, chronic disease prevention physician with HCPH’s Nutrition and Chronic Disease Prevention Division. “We brought this event to the community to encourage families to eat and spend quality time together. Plus, we provided valuable information to help youth steer clear of drug and alcohol abuse.”

The coalition — led by HCPH — is a group of residents and agencies working together to prevent youth drug and alcohol abuse in the North Harris County communities of Acres Homes, Greenspoint, Trinity Gardens, Little York and East Aldine. Since its inception, in 2013, the coalition has provided educational outreach to neighborhood schools, community centers, churches and community groups. They’ve also partnered with the Harris County Sherriff’s Office and Walgreen’s on safe medication disposal to prevent prescription drug abuse.

At the event, held at Trinity Gardens Church of Christ, guests enjoyed a free, hot dinner provided by Tasty’s Restaurant, as the keynote speaker from Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) shared a moving and personal story of her father being killed by a drunk driver. A speaker from Change Happens provided parents with tips on communicating with youth about substance abuse. The Council, United Health, Positive Parenting, Santa Maria Hostel, Houston Health Department and other agencies provided information on prevention, substance abuse and mental health counseling, and free giveaways. Walgreens provided free immunizations and blood pressure checks.

“To prevent youth drug and alcohol abuse we must work together as a community, and the work begins with families,” said Gwen Sims, director of HCPH’s Nutrition and Chronic Disease Prevention Division. “Our goal with this event was to encourage parents to make time for family meals and to arm them with the necessary tools to prevent drug and alcohol abuse.”