COVID-response program becomes a sustainable solution to address food insecurity

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Between early April and late September, AdkAction and the Hub on the Hill (The Hub), along with a network of partners and funders, succeeded in delivering 4,314 boxes containing the equivalent of 64,710 locally-grown meals to hundreds of Adirondack households. The Emergency Food Package COVID-19 relief project is now officially transitioning into a lasting program. Organizers are working to ensure that families identified during the project, and many more like them, continue to have access to locally-grown ingredients and nutritious meals delivered to their doorsteps long into the future, and that the new sales channel opened up by the project for area farmers continues to grow.

The Hub is now offering the evolved version of Emergency Food Packages (EFPs) for sale on their website. What was an Emergency Food Package has become a Farm Fresh Package, filled with products from local farms, including Juniper Hill, Tangleroot, North Country Creamery, KZ Farm, D&D Meats, Reber Rock, Essex Farm, and Latremore’s Pine Ridge Farm. Packages are filled with a selection of in-season vegetables and fruit, eggs, yogurt, bread, as well as meat and cheese or frozen prepared meals.

AdkAction helped The Hub apply to be authorized as a SNAP vendor, meaning that The Hub can now accept SNAP or “Food Stamps.” Recognizing that local food is more expensive than conventional and commodity food, AdkAction is working to leverage existing incentive programs, like Double Up Food Bucks. It has created a new program called “Fair Food Pricing” which subsidizes 30% of the cost of food purchased from Hub, with the hope of adding more local food vendors in the future.

“As the EFP project actively evolves, we want to pause to acknowledge the immense gratitude we feel for our partners, funders, and volunteers. This was an all-hands-on-deck community effort,”said Brittany Christenson, Executive Director of AdkAction.

The Joint Council for Economic Opportunity (JCEO), Adirondack Community Action Program (ACAP), and Community Connections all worked to screen and refer recipients to the program, volunteers helped pack boxes and make far-flung deliveries. Hundreds of individual donors rallied around the project, as did Adirondack Foundation, Mother Cabrini Health Foundation, and New York State Health Foundation with major grant awards to help build capacity and strengthen partnerships to effect long-term change.

Food insecurity in the Adirondacks is not a new problem, though it has been greatly exacerbated by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. A survey of EFP recipients paints an unsettling portrait of growing food insecurity in the region: 14% of those receiving the packages shared that their families still needed more food assistance and 30% said the food packages represented “All or Most” of the food they had access to during the early days of the pandemic. While 60% of respondents were enrolled in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), options to buy groceries online using a SNAP EBT card are extremely limited. For the 37% who reported they lack reliable transportation, this created an extremely difficult situation.

Over half of respondents (54%) had not needed to visit a food pantry in the year prior to the pandemic. This statistic is echoed by a recent NYS Health Foundation study which found a state-wide increase in the number of households that have slipped from food sufficient to newly food scarce. Food scarcity is defined as a household that either sometimes or often did not have enough to eat in the last seven days.

The new Fresh Food Packages program, growing out of the successful EFP model sparked by the COVID-19 pandemic, has the potential to build long-term sustainability and resilience in our regional food system by helping local families overcome existing barriers to access locally produced food, while providing a stable market for Adirondack farmers.

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