March is National Nutrition Month and we’re posting a series of blogs that focus on nutrition within our networks. You can also learn about our programs here.
This is a guest post from Deb Krempecke, Manager of the Lamoille Community Food Share in Morrisville, VT.
The goal of food shelves has always been to be well-stocked with the staple items needed by those they serve. But nowadays, more and more food shelves are looking to add fresh, nutritious offerings to those canned and packaged items.
Since 2005, Lamoille Community Food Share (LCFS) has been accessing gleaned vegetables from a variety of sources and these items have been very popular with those who visit our pantry in Morrisville.
Also popular is any kind of fruit, but we started to notice the price of canned fruit was rising dramatically and there were concerns about the amount of sugar and/or corn syrup found within. In 2008, a grant was secured for the purchase of fresh fruit. This grant was put to good use, but there were challenges with the shelf life of certain items.
That’s when the LCFS board of directors came up with the idea of providing coupons to an area supermarket that would allow clients to choose and purchase whatever fresh fruit and vegetables worked best for their families.
It made sense to call it the FRESH Coupon Program and an acronym followed: Food Resources Everyone Should Have. The Hannaford Supermarket in Morrisville agreed to work with us and in 2009, we started producing $2 coupons which could be used for the purchase of fresh produce. The number of coupons we offer is based on family size and are currently available to families in our six core towns: Eden, Elmore, Hyde Park, Morrisville, Stowe and Wolcott.
In 2010, it became obvious that meat was another item clients needed, but the availability of donated meat was limited and canned meat was not the answer. The FRESH Coupon Program was expanded to include meat as well. Now, money formally spent on canned items with high sugar or sodium levels is redirected towards these coupons.
A small family gets one of each coupon while a larger family can get up to 4 of each. The coupons can be bundled to provide bigger savings and they do not have an expiration date. Each week, the used coupons are collected from Hannaford and paid for – typically between $300-$500 a week. The total cost in 2014 was $15,080. The coupons are then recycled back through the program.
A volunteer and former board member shopped around and found a good price on printing the coupons, which cost about $400 per year. He also monitors the program to keep us informed as to how many coupons are in circulation and notes any trends seen in their usage. The people we serve typically access several programs meant to alleviate hunger including 3SquaresVT – an important program that helps families purchase whatever food items they choose.
The FRESH Coupon Program differs in that it specifically guides families towards purchasing healthy items.
This new direction at LCFS started with, and is still enhanced by, the gleaned vegetables we offer every week. The gleaned produce allows clients to try an unfamiliar vegetable to see if they like it. They can then use that knowledge when they are shopping.
When we attend meetings with other agencies both locally and throughout the state there is always an interest in our coupon program. While acknowledging that this idea might not work for every agency, we do suggest it as a unique way to promote consumption of fresh produce and meat while encouraging healthy cooking habits. What we can say for certain is that everyday our clients tell us, “These coupons really help!”