Freshening Up the NEK

VT Food bank ThumbnailOn the third Thursday of every month, locals line up inside Northeastern Vermont Regional Hospital; but not for treatment. Instead, they wait for fresh, local produce.

"We actually started this in January of 2016, so this is our 25th month of doing it," said Laural Ruggles, NVRH's Director of Community Health Improvement.

"We hold it every month, the third Thursday of every month from 10-11. People come down. We have whatever we have. It's always fresh produce. Every once in a while, they'll bring something different. We've had eggs before, we've had milk. Sometimes crackers and cheese, that kind of stuff. But mostly fresh produce, and that's the whole idea."

The program is run in part with the Vermont Food Bank and their Veggie Van Go program, which brings in produce from all over the country to Vermonters.

"They come from all over. A lot of it is, depending on time of year, sometimes it's local produce," noted Joe Palmer, a driver and warehouse worker for the Vermont Food Bank. "We have potatoes from Peasley's Potatoes right now, which are local. The rest of it we can buy, through tractor trailer load from Canada right now, just because of the time of year."

Once the produce is brought to Vermont, the food bank brings the food to local hot spots, like NVRH, where it is passed out to anyone that shows up. One important part of this program is that it requires no sort of paperwork or proof of income.

"It's pretty much if you think you could use a little help, with adding some healthy food to your food menus, then come on down," said Ruggles.

The program sees about 200-300 families per event. On average, a family consists of about 3-4 people, so it's estimated that the food bank feeds 600-1200 people per event. This can go a long way for families, both financially and physically.

"They're getting free produce, which really stretches their budget," said Sara Whitehair, the Vermont Food Bank Fresh Coordinator. "A lot of people can't afford produce, it's very expensive. So if there's things like school programs, or heat, especially this time of year, the food budget is going to see the first one that goes because they have to pay their bills. So it's really important for people to get healthy food, have access to it."

Ruggles also emphasized that she has heard only good things about the program.

"I hear stories about people who are eating more healthy in general now, phenomenal weight loss because this program is helping them have access to fresh vegetables that they can't always afford. So weight loss stories, people feeling better, having more energy. That's what I hear from people who come every month."

The Veggie Van will be back at NVRH on March 15th.

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