Getting fruits and vegetables onto the table or into kids’ lunchboxes all year-round can be a challenge for many families in the community.
But that burden is about to be eased as the Tantramar Family Resource Centre gets set to roll out a new program that will provide those families with fresh produce every month at affordable prices.
Fresh For Less, based on a similar program operating out of Moncton Headstart’s Mapleton Teaching Kitchen, is a food purchasing club that will help ease the load on families struggling to keep up with the rising costs of gas, electricity and grocery bills.
“This club was started out of the recognition that fresh produce is expensive, and when families or individuals are on a limited income, healthy food is the first to go,” said Raeghann Lister, the program coordinator at the Tantramar Family Resource Centre (TFRC), who has been partnering with the Sackville Food Group to get this program off the ground.
Lister said unfortunately, when families are faced with limited incomes, they tend to turn to unhealthy, pre-packaged food options that are less expensive rather than the more costly fruit and vegetables.
The Fresh For Less club is a way to get families back to eating healthier fare and at a rate they can afford. Members pay a monthly fee of $15 to receive a box filled with fresh produce, which will be “well worth the money,” said Lister.
The bins will include the regular staples like potatoes, carrots, and onions, as well as apples, oranges and bananas each month. As well, depending on the time of year or the number of members that sign up, the boxes could also be filled up with tomatoes, cucumbers, green peppers, and more.
Also included in the bin will be a newsletter, featuring recipes, cooking tips and other useful information on different ways to use the food, said Lister.
“So there’s a lot of education in this too . . . if we can start getting vegetables out to people then show them how to use it, that’s what we’re aiming for.”
TFRC hopes to get the program up and running by next month, and Lister said a minimum of 10 families are required to participate for it to work. The club is intended for low-to-moderate-income families or individuals. She pointed out that members who sign up aren’t obligated to purchase the box every month, just when they are able to do so.
The money from the members will be pooled together each month to purchase the fruits and vegetables from a wholesaler, so as to get a better rate. The Tantramar Family Resource Centre has already been in discussions with Apple a Day, an Ontario company, which currently delivers produce to several convenience stores in the Sackville area.
Lister said although there were initial concerns from the Sackville Food Group about using an Ontario company rather than local producers, it was determined that this would be the most cost-efficient and effective way to operate the program.
“If you can get vegetables into people’s homes that normally don’t get them, then that’s better than no vegetables at all,” she said.
Lister said the Moncton-area program providers and teachers have said they notice a big difference in children's attentiveness in school when they are able to incorporate fresh, healthy food into their diet.
Clare Archibald, executive director of Moncton Headstart, said the Fresh For Less program was modeled after a ‘fresh boxes’ program in Toronto and the Saint John food purchasing club.
“So we’re all learning from each other,” she said.
The Moncton Headstart program is now taking more than 120 orders each month, she said, which has been gradually increasing since its inception about a year ago.
“It’s really taken off.”
Last week’s order, which just went out to families and individuals in the Moncton area, featured 12 different items.
“The bins were full,” said Archibald. “It’s a great time of year (for produce) so you get more for your money.”
She said having access to a variety of fruits and vegetables each month is a huge benefit for families who couldn’t normally afford to do so. For example, she cited a case last week where a mother came in for a box after her husband had just recently lost his job.
“It’s a challenge for her to feed her family and this is really helpful to her,” said Archibald.
Sackville’s Fresh For Less club received a grant recently from the New Brunswick Department of Culture, Tourism, and Healthy Living to help with the set-up costs – including purchasing the boxes, promotion of the new program, and administration costs.
Once up and running, the produce will be delivered each month to St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church, which has generously offered space for the program. The boxes will be packed by Daybreak clients, who have agreed to volunteer their time.
“So this is a great community partnership . . . and that benefits us and everyone else too,” said Lister.
The families can then pick up their boxes at the church in the afternoon on the set date.
To register for the program or to find out more, call or drop into the TFRC office on Mondays, Wednesdays or Fridays at 9 Willow Lane, 939-8372 or e-mail email@example.com
“Let’s see who’s interested and see how it goes,” said Lister, “and then we’ll see where we can go from there.”