When it comes to food and dietary choices, many of us have learned that it’s more about quality than quantity. But for many of our neighbors in Chester County, it’s really about both. Quantity — that is, simply enough food on the table, day after day — is the primary struggle for many families and individuals facing food insecurity. When meals are unpredictable or scarce, quality often isn’t even a luxury that can be factored into the equation.
Here at the Chester County Food Bank, we’re aiming to change that. No matter where people are getting their food from, we believe they shouldn’t have to sacrifice nutrition and quality when it comes to the food they’re putting into their bodies.
Denise Sheehan, RD, LDN, HHC, Director of Strategic Initiatives, helped us to identify ways to bring more nutrient-dense foods to more people in our community. For many years, we haven’t accepted soda and other sweetened beverages or candy donations in large quantities, and have also worked nonstop to find innovative ways to provide fresh food to our clients via our Fresh2You Mobile Market, the Fresh2You Fruit & Vegetable Prescription (FVRx) program, Taste It! and Eat Fresh educational platforms, Raised Bed Garden Program and more.
“There is a ton of scientific research and proof that diet-related diseases disproportionately affect people in economically challenged areas,” Sheehan explained. “Our goal at the Food Bank is to not add to that problem, and to expand access to what people on a limited income can afford.”
During our recently conducted community food security assessment, we gathered feedback from over 1,000 of our food pantry members through surveys and focus groups. We received an overwhelming response that pantry members are concerned about their health and the most important foods when coming to the pantry are fresh produce, quality protein and healthy dairy items. So over the course of the next few years, our goal is to provide more of these items, which can often be higher in price, and so out of reach for many people. Then, with those items taken care of, our clients can readjust their food budgets and have more to spend on items of their choosing to fill in around what we provide.
“For instance,” Sheehan said, “we’re hopefully going to distribute less of the highly processed canned items which are typically loaded with high fructose corn syrup added sugar and sodium and replace them with the simple ingredients and recipes.”
To start, CCFB is going to monitor the foods that we purchase with donated dollars and government funds more closely to be sure they’re as nutritionally impactful as possible while also meeting our clients’ expressed needs. Of course, we still want to provide like cereals (low in added sugar), fruit in juice, and canned proteins like tuna, chicken and beans, but are going to pass by options that include high fructose corn syrup, partially hydrogenated oil (trans fat) and excessive added sugars. (As far as food drives and donations are concerned, we are still happy to receive items from our most wanted food items list)
We’re excited to embark on this next step of our journey to help fight hunger and food insecurity in Chester County. If you have any questions about our commitment to nutrition, please don’t hesitate to reach out and ask!
Want to learn more? Sign up for our newsletter and stay connected. You can also donate food, funds and time to help us achieve our mission. Call (610) 873-6000 to speak to someone about getting involved or requesting a tour. Thanks to you, we’re growing a healthier community.
The Chester County Food Bank is the central hunger relief organization serving more than 120 food cupboards, meal sites and social service organizations throughout Chester County. We mobilize our community to ensure access to real, healthy food.
Photos: Chester County Food Bank