Schenectady County and several health organizations announced Tuesday an effort to expand access to healthy foods at five local pantries.
Leaders from the county and Cornell Cooperative Extension, which uses research to provide solutions to community issues, gathered at the Bridge Christian Church Food Pantry on Crane Street to discuss the initiative. Five area pantries will include increased fresh produce, layout changes to make fruits and vegetables more visible and accessible and incorporate recipe cards for consumers.
A 2015 survey from Schenectady County Public Health Services and Cornell Cooperative Extension showed that about 68 percent of the 300 food pantry clients in the county reported having either type-2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol or a combination of the three.
“A lot of these chronic diseases are impacted by an unavailability of healthy foods,” said Lisa Ayers, director of public health for the county.
Improved layouts and signage will be installed to give the pantries more of a grocery-store feel, project leaders said.
In addition to expanding the availability and visibility of produce and healthy foods, the initiative will provide recipes and instructions for how to cook things like cabbage or other foods consumers might not be familiar with. The goal is to make buying those different vegetables and fruits more appealing, Ayers said.
The Bridge Christian Church Pantry, Harmony Fellowship Pantry, Scotia-Glenville Pantry, Schenectady Inner City Ministry and State Street Food Pantry are the five food pantries included in the effort.
Ellis Medicine, Schenectady Inner City Ministry and other community health groups are also participating in the initiative, which is made possible by funding from a program of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
While many food pantry clients use the facilities for temporary assistance, an increasing number of families are relying on food pantries as a regular source of food. In addition, those who are able to shop at grocery stores find a limited selection of healthy produce at larger stores, and prices that are too expensive at smaller ones, Ayers said.
Access is another issue, said Karen Johnson, chair of the county legislature’s committee on health and human services. A lot of people who use food pantries don’t necessarily have the transportation to get to a grocery store, she said.
By improving access to healthier foods at area pantries, Johnson said she hopes consumers can improve their quality of life and keep health problems under control.
“We just have some people who don’t have access to the amount of calories they need,” Johnson said. “And after we talk calories, we need to talk about including healthy foods, too.”
Reach Gazette reporter Brett Samuels at 395-3113, [email protected] or @Brett_Samuels27 on Twitter.