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Healthy Options program seeks to close the food gap

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Low-income households receive vouchers for fresh fruits, vegetables and more

Healthy Options program seeks to close the food gap.
A family participating in the Healthy Options program samples some of the fresh fruit and vegetables available to them.

Experts call it the food gap. It affects families who earn too much for food stamps, but too little to shop nutritiously. The result is a diet of highly processed, unhealthy food.

A whopping 26 percent of Adams County families with children are caught in the food gap, reports the Adams County Food Policy Council.

“When families are struggling to pay their bills for the month, the food budget is usually the first thing to get cut,” explained Kathy Gaskin, the executive director of Healthy Adams County.

“At the grocery store, instead of buying fresh fruits and vegetables they’re looking at canned food, which costs a little less.”

Three years ago, the WellSpan Gettysburg Hospital Foundation began funding an innovative program called Healthy Options. It seeks to close the food gap, and support local farmers in the process.

Through Healthy Options, low-income households receive vouchers for fresh fruits, veggies, breads and meats at participating Adams County farmers’ markets.

The program targets families who do not qualify for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), more commonly known as food stamps. They receive $40 in vouchers each month to use at the farmers’ markets.

Healthy Options also educates. Participants learn to grow and prepare their own food through a series of gardening classes, farm tours, and healthy cooking classes.

Judy Alder, manager of community philanthropy at the WellSpan Gettysburg Hospital Foundation, said her board of directors did not hesitate to approve funding for Healthy Options.

“We are pleased to support a program like this because of the direct impact it is having on families, not only with the vouchers, but through the educational programs,” Alder said.

In 2013, Healthy Options helped 65 needy families. The program runs from June through September.

Kathy Glahn, president of the Adams County Farmers’ Market Association, said that few farmers’ markets across the country participate in food assistance programs.

Her group, however, views it as a special opportunity to not only serve the community, but also gain new customers. Healthy Options and SNAP combine for more than 10 percent of sales, Glahn said.

“Hopefully, after these families get through the rough patch in their lives, they will continue to think of the farmers’ market as part of their weekly routine for shopping for fresh produce,” she said.

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