Fresh Produce: Making a Healthy Difference

Mediaon June 27th, 2017Comments Off on Fresh Produce: Making a Healthy Difference

As dusk approached, a distant clock chimed the hour.  It was 6:00 p.m. on a Wednesday afternoon in June in the little river-side town of Newport, Kentucky.  The setting sun’s rays reflected brightly off the Ohio River and music floated in the air from nearby restaurants.  Children danced on the streets and couples strolled by as they made their way toward the levee. My eyes took in the scene, as I hurried towards the gray stone church tucked away on a side street with its exquisite steeple and bright red door.   I spotted a short line of people steadily entering the church through a side door and I knew I was in the right place. This was my first visit to St. Paul’s Pantry in Newport, Kentucky.

Gelene Morales came outside to meet me, a smile lighting up her entire face. “Welcome to our pantry,” she said simply as we entered the church and made our way downstairs to the food room in the basement.  I stood in a room lined with shelves that were stocked with cans of vegetables, soup, beans and boxes of pasta, rice and bread.  As I looked around my gaze fell on the impressive collection of vegetables in the middle of the room. There were tomatoes, onions, peppers, potatoes, carrots, squash and Swiss chard all neatly packed into crates or packaged into Ziploc bags for easy pick-up.  Following my gaze, Gelene explained, “We love the fruits and vegetables that we pick up from Freestore Foodbank’s Distribution Center in Wilder, Kentucky. Our clients are so appreciative.”

St. Paul’s Pantry opened its doors in April 2009. It was not long, before they became a partner agency to the Freestore Foodbank. Today it is the main outreach ministry of the St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. The pantry serves about 50 families per week and is open every Wednesday afternoon and on the second Saturday of every month.  In 2014 Gelene Morales went on a mission trip to Haiti with a member of St. Paul’s church. That was when she heard about the pantry and the need for helpers. A few months after  returning from Haiti, Gelene started volunteering at the church. Initially she stocked the shelves, but eventually started taking care of all the purchasing for the pantry.

“This has been a hugely rewarding experience,” Gelene comments. “Initially I used to pick up a lot of non-perishable items such as canned vegetables, beans and pasta and tons of baked goods.  However, the focus shifted recently and we have been getting a lot more fresh produce.” Gelene, who is a parent herself, tries to pay close attention to nutrition and healthy living. She makes it a point to avoid getting processed meats and sugary baked goods, focusing instead on increasing the selection of fresh vegetables and fruits available to her clients. “I sometimes pick up endive or kale which is relatively new and unfamiliar to many of our clients. However, I try to make some of these lesser known items available to them once in a while so that they can be exposed to new foods, ” she  explains. She is passionate about promoting healthy and nutritious foods and encouraging clients to try new and exotic  produce.  Recently the pantry came up with an innovative idea to exchange donated bread for fresh eggs at a local poultry farm (where it would be used to feed the rabbits and chickens).  Gelene and her partners at St. Paul’s Pantry are grateful to the Freestore Foodbank for offering a wide selection of fresh produce.

The Freestore Foodbank’s strategic plan includes improving access to healthy and nutritious food for clients. The goal is to increase produce distribution 25% over the last year to 6.2M lbs. “The recent surge in our supply of fresh produce can be attributed to the support of generous donors such as Castellini, Meijer, Kroger, Sam’s Club and Fresh Thyme,” says Randy Miller, Strategic Product Sourcing Manager, Freestore Foodbank.  The Castellini Group alone has donated close to half a million pounds of produce within the last fiscal year.  There is also an effort to decrease the lead time between the receiving and distribution of produce. The opening of the Wilder Distribution Center has helped to improve access to fresh produce for clients in Kentucky.  In addition, the Freestore Foodbank has recently become part of a special purchasing program through Feeding America that decreases the cost of produce and offers a wider selection.

“Research shows that increasing our intake of fresh fruits and vegetables can lower the risk of many chronic diseases including cancer. Fresh produce is also lower in calories and helps in the fight against obesity among adults and children. Our goal is to increase access to fresh, nutritious food and we are always thinking of new ways to offer our clients healthy meals,” Randy adds.