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Hearty, Nutritious, Delicious Meals

Hearty, Nutritious, Delicious Meals

Sherry Morgan grew up on a farm where, as a child, she’d pick green beans, strawberries, and cucumbers out of the garden, fresh, delicious, and plentiful. Now at 52, blindness has made her become resourceful and thankful for meal programs Community Health has connected her with.

Community Health providers recognize the important link between nutrition, healthcare, and a sustainable local economy to create a healthy community.

“The meals are a godsend,” Morgan said. “For years we’ve been struggling. Food stamps are gone – now they give us $60 a month. Without that food program, I won’t eat much.” She and others who are homebound receive one nutritious prepared meal a week now.

Morgan is one of the dozens of people recommended by Community Heath for Rutland County Eats, a spinoff from the free meal delivery program Everyone Eats started during the pandemic. This month, major federal funding that supported meal programs throughout the country was cut drastically as Covid monies expired. As of April 1, Everyone Eats went from providing 3,000 delivered prepared meals each week, down to 200 per week.

“We are going to have a lot of homeless, hungry people,” said Anne Filskov, RN, CCM, Community Health Behavioral Health Care Manager. “It’s scary to think about what’s going to happen.” Filskov, a Behavioral Health Care Manager, connects patients with their primary care and behavioral health primary care providers and community resources like Rutland County Eats, a Rutland County program sponsored by the Vermont Farmers Food Center.

Food, Housing, Transportation

“I have a lot of people who either don’t have transportation or can’t get out of their house for different reasons,” Filskov said. “Some haven’t left home since Covid started.” Over the past year, Filskov has recommended more than 50 eligible people to the VFFC programs, including seniors, those already receiving 3 Squares state funding, disabled and needy families.

Lack of transportation compounds the challenges faced with getting access to healthcare and proper nutrition. “Folks who deal with serious mental health issues; folks who are on the outskirts of town, who just can’t get there – transportation is a big issue in this area. It’s a huge barrier to getting healthcare and food,” Filskov said.

“They can’t access anything, so we bring them these nutritious meals.”
– Grace Davy, Vermont Farmers Food Center Program Manager

Grace Davy, Vermont Farmers Food Center Program Manager, is coordinating the new prepared meal service called Rutland County Eats. Thirty-four homebound Community Health patients receive one meal per week now under the new program which is also continuing relationships with the local restaurants that prepare the meals, and nonprofits that provide hot meals to take out. Along with the meal distribution, Davy said they continue supporting partnerships with nonprofits like the Rutland Methodist Church that prepares nutritious breakfasts.

The food programs designed by the VFFC are multifaceted, supporting local farmers and restaurants while providing healthy meals for those in need.

“We have guidelines with meal standards. We want the meals to be hearty, nutritious, delicious, low-carb, more medically-tailored – that is our end goal like low salt, low carb, heavy on the vegetables and healthy proteins,” Davy said. The meals also are required to contain locally produced farm products.

Delivering Nutritious Meals 

With reduced resources, part of Davy’s responsibility now is to help deliver the meals. “A lot of people just had a hard time answering their door. We have an aging population. Mobility is a huge problem,” she said. Housing is another challenge now that pandemic support for hotels and transitional housing is also being cut off. The prepared meals were addressing the food insecurity of people who were living in rooms without any cooking facilities. Davy said they will stay in touch with this population as they relocate.

“I am so happy I did the deliveries,” Davy said. “Everyone was so grateful for getting the meals. It’s a lifeline to a lot of people to have high-quality nutritious food coming to their door when they can’t go out to get it or afford to get it.”

Community Health also partners with VFFC’s Farmacy program which is starting to organize for the 2023 summer produce season.

“Food insecurity is a lack of consistent access to enough food for every person in a household to live an active, healthy life. This can be a temporary situation for a family or can last a long time.”

“We had 225 Farmacy program participants last year,” said Emma Hileman, VFFC Program Director. “This year we are planning for 250 shares. At least east 60-70% are Community Health patients. This year, we’ll sign up families instead of just individuals. We know a family of four needs more vegetables.”

Farmacy provides a free weekly share of Vermont-grown vegetables, fruit, and herbs distributed at Community Health practices throughout Rutland County.

“If you go to a food shelf you have all nonperishable items – it’s all canned, frozen, and boxed and it’s not the healthiest to eat,” Filskov said. “So, if you can supplement with fresh vegetables that’s huge.”

Community Health Dietitian Maria Durkee, MS, RDN, CD, agrees that eating well is complicated for those challenged by homelessness, finding cooking facilities, and getting transportation and healthcare. “There is food insecurity and eating disorders, hormonal changes – a lot of complicated things that make healthy food choices not always possible.”

But Durkee said being in Vermont does have the benefit of access to locally-grown food. “Local small farmers grow vegetables and it’s a good thing to eat what’s in season because it’s less expensive and it helps sustain local growers as well,” she said.

Supporting Rutland County Eats

Currently sponsored by a grant from the local Bowse Health Trust, the Rutland County Eats program is looking into ways to support the prepared meal deliveries despite the huge drop in federal funding. “We are working on a fundraiser – a restaurant week – and other ways to support Rutland County Eats,” Davy said.

“I have a lot of people who either don’t have transportation or can’t get out of their house for different reasons. Grace has been amazing getting meals to these folks,” Filskov said.

The new program will prioritize seniors 65 and older, people already receiving food assistance and those in transitional housing. “We have well over 200 people identified,” Davy said.

“If the program goes away then it’s going to be back to food shelves and people are going to be hungry,” said Filskov.

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