At the Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia and the Eastern Shore (FSEVA), we recognize that solving hunger is a goal we can only tackle by working together as a community. We also realize that feeding people isn't enough. Proper food and nutrition is essential for our bodies and minds. It is our belief that by increasing access to foods that are actually healthy, we will be doing much more than just creating fuller bellies.
With that in mind, last year FSEVA entered into a community partnership with several groups including the Obici Healthcare Foundation and the Salvation Army, with support from a Feeding America® nutrition grant thanks to generous funding from the National Dairy Council. The result of this collaboration is the Healthy Suffolk, Healthy People Mobile Pantry Program that aims to deliver high quality foods, along with nutrition education through quarterly tastings, recipe sharing and dialogue with customers. The foods distributed through this program are healthy, low-sodium, low-sugar options, including fresh produce…but as our customers know all too well, higher quality means higher cost. Whereas, those served through our Programs receive food at no charge to them, FSEVA typically spends about $7 per household on regular Mobile Pantry products. With the increased nutritional quality of the Healthy Mobile Pantry foods, the FSEVA cost is a little over $17 per household.
Serving an average of 275 households each month, the Healthy Suffolk, Healthy People Mobile Pantry represents a profound investment in the FSEVA nutrition initiative. We are really attempting to take our efforts on this front to the next level. Low-income families on a limited budget frequently tell us that purchasing fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins is just too tough on their wallets. What we know is that by excluding these types of nutrient-filled foods from their diets, these customers often have a significant increase in risk for diet-related health issues like diabetes and high blood pressure.
At a recent distribution, the Salvation Army provided a canteen truck to serve tastings of a lentil and chicken meatball stew. Customers were able to sample the stew and were given the recipe along with all the items needed to recreate the healthy dish at home. A month later, one of the Programs' customers returned with a smile. She was 70 years old and said she had never eaten lentils before. Her experience in trying them at the Mobile Pantry showed her how healthy and delicious they are, and she says she is now eating them regularly!
Further feedback from these customers has shown that through this Program, they are learning more about nutrition and that eating these healthier foods makes them feel better. The Healthy Suffolk, Healthy People Mobile Pantry has been such an overwhelming success that we are in the process of developing a second location in Portsmouth, VA that will follow a similar model.
In a perfect world, food banks across the country would only be distributing these types of nutrient-rich, high-quality products. But, in a perfect world, we also wouldn't have 49 million Americans that are struggling with hunger. In the meantime, as a network we work hard, continuing to provide as much food as we can alongside our Partner Agencies and through our distribution programs. We continue to educate our communities, partners and volunteers on how they can join us in the effort to eliminate hunger, nourishing the bodies — especially the hearts — of those who need it most.
Julie Braley actually began her career with the Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia and the Eastern Shore as a volunteer. She joined the staff in January 2013, with a passion for empowering others to take action against hunger in their community. Julie is an avid Ohio State fan and alumna, outdoors enthusiast, and considers herself a "foodie."