MIDCOAST — A grant from the Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Foundation is supporting efforts to increase access to fresh food in the midcoast region. Penquis received the $25,000 grant, which is renewable for two additional years, to partner with AIO to enhance and expand the community’s food program. The funding will address healthy food access in four areas: redistribution of excess produce from food pantries that currently discard or donate it for animal consumption; expansion of local gleaning efforts; establishment of a food pantry hub with safe storage capacity for fresh food; and education about fresh food.
Volunteers with the Penquis Retired and Senior Volunteer (RSVP) program will be involved in all aspects of the project. Workshops on such topics as safe handling and sorting, minimizing food waste, focused growing, and nutrition will enhance the capacity of volunteers to support the expansion. Currently, 300,000 pounds of fresh food are distributed by volunteers through five food pantries. In addition to getting fresher and higher quality produce into the hands of current recipients, it is anticipated that an additional 200 households will benefit from the proposed efforts in the first year of the expansion project. In year one, the unduplicated count of 1,500 individuals served each month is projected to increase to approximately 2,100.
A portion of grant funds will be used by AIO to build a climate-controlled, properly ventilated root cellar for use by Knox County area gleaners and pantries. About one thousand pounds of fresh food are gleaned each year, primarily from a large local farm and a few backyard gardens. Efforts to engage more community gardens, large farms and home gardeners in the gleaning effort will substantially increase the yield of gleaned produce.
“This Harvard Pilgrim Healthy Food Fund grant will have a significant and lasting impact on local food systems and healthy food access,” said Kara Hay, CEO of Penquis. “We are grateful for Harvard Pilgrim’s investment in our community and the health of its residents.”
The grant was one of 25 awarded in Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Connecticut. Karen Voci, president of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Foundation, said, “Helping families eat in healthier ways, and encouraging support for food system improvements, we believe will lead to healthier people and healthier communities.”
The nearly $625,000 in new awards brings the total Harvard Pilgrim Healthy Food Fund grants since launch in 2016 to $4.6 million.
Incorporated in 1967, Penquis is Maine’s largest community action agency, primarily serving low-income residents of Knox, Penobscot and Piscataquis counties, Maine. Penquis assists individuals in becoming safe, stable, connected, and financially secure. Its wide range of programs and services work together to help individuals and families achieve economic security, affordable housing, reliable transportation, school readiness, and healthy lives. For more information, please visit www.penquis.org.
About The Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Foundation
Created in 1980, The Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Foundation supports Harvard Pilgrim’s mission to improve the quality and value of health care for the people and communities we serve. The Harvard Pilgrim Foundation provides the tools, training and leadership to help build healthy communities throughout Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire. In 2018, the Harvard Pilgrim Foundation awarded more than $1.25 million in grants to 855 nonprofit organizations in the region. Since its inception in 1980, the Foundation has awarded $150 million in funds and resources throughout the four states. For more information, please visit www.harvardpilgrim.org/foundation.