One of the most difficult items to distribute to students through the in school pantry system is fresh produce. After a year and a half of trying to work out viable methods, we finally have a collaborative effort with the Mountaineer Food Bank and Mon Health Wedgewood Primary Care. The Fresh Start Health & Wellness program provides fresh produce to students at least once a month.
With the challenges faced in Monongalia County with transportation issues and food deserts in some parts of the county, children and their families do not necessarily get the chance to get to farmer’s markets, farm stands or large grocery stores. Given these challenges, many of our youth are not exposed to the bounty of fruits and vegetables that many others enjoy. These foods are vital as fruits and vegetables are rich in some of the key nutrients that kids fall short in including calcium, potassium, fiber, magnesium and vitamin E.
Operating on the second Thursday morning of every month, Fresh Start is a great option for those who cannot afford healthy fresh produce on their own. With the sponsorship of MonHealth, the Mountaineer Food Bank brings a truckload of fresh produce to The Pantry Plus More. Volunteers unload the truck, bag produce, divide it amongst their 12 schools and school volunteer representatives deliver it to each school. When there is enough, volunteers take it to other places like Kingdom EMC to go into their backpack program for Skyview Elementary, to the Bartlett Family House and to low income housing neighborhoods.
In addition to providing fresh produce, Fresh Start gives recipients nutritional information and recipes. When there is a more exotic fruit like pineapples and mangos or vegetable like acorn squash, instructions on how to peel and cut the produce are given out to take home. Everyone enjoys learning how to store, prepare, and cook produce, especially items they’ve never eaten.
Fresh Start began as a response to the health problems linked to food insecurity. A lack of nutritious food has a detrimental effect on both physical and mental health and increases a person’s risk for developing health problems. Food insecurity makes managing chronic diseases like diabetes, hypertension, and heart conditions even more complicated and challenging.
Children from food-insecure households are two times more likely to experience persistent symptoms of hyperactivity and inattention than children who are not food insecure. In addition, children in food-insecure households tend to have diets that are high in refined sugars and low in iron, causing behavioral consequences such as inattention and poor memory. Food
insecurity is linked with higher rates of adolescent mood, behavior, and substance abuse disorders.
To address the food insecurity problem in children, The Pantry Plus More obtained a special grant from Mon Health. This funding allows The Pantry Plus More to distribute fresh produce to our in-school pantries. We are thankful for the support of Mon Health’s CEO, David Goldberg, who believes “food is medicine.” We have delivered fresh produce including thousands of pounds of apples, clementines, pineapples, grapes, squash, mangos, potatoes, sweet potatoes, zucchini, eggplant, strawberries, and grapefruit.
It has also been reported that food insecurity early in life can weaken infants’ attachments to parents, possibly negatively affecting children’s mental health later in life. The American Academy of Pediatrics reported that children who are exposed to early life toxic stress are at high risk for adverse health outcomes later in life, including cardiovascular disease, obstructive pulmonary disease, cancers, asthma, autoimmune disease, and depression.
The cycle of food insecurity and chronic disease begins when an individual or family cannot afford enough nutritious food. The combination of stress and poor nutrition can make disease management even more challenging. Further, the time and money needed to respond to these worsening health crises drain the household budget, leaving little money for essential nutrition and medical care. This causes the cycle to continue. Many families experiencing food insecurity often have several, if not all, compounding factors that make maintaining good health extremely difficult.
Fresh Start offers a first step in helping food insecure families get the nutrient-rich items their bodies need to stay healthy.