Food Gatherers scores $200,000 grant for food prep program

A $200,000 grant from the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan will support a new Food Gatherers program intended to improve access to fresh produce for low-income children and seniors.

The Food Gatherers grant was just one among 20 the Community Foundation announced last week through its Healthy Food Connect initiative, totaling $2 million in grant money. Elsewhere in the Ann Arbor area, Jewish Family Services of Washtenaw County received $75,000 to improve food delivery to seniors.

Food Gatherers works with partner organizations to distribute 6 million pounds of surplus food, much of it protein and produce, to 44,000 Washtenaw County residents each year. Still, Food Gatherers president and CEO Eileen Spring says there are barriers to people actually consuming the fresh produce the nonprofit procures.

"We could give rutabagas, turnips, and beets to Meals on Wheels to give to seniors, but many seniors don't know what to do with those, and they can be difficult to eat," Spring says.

The idea behind the new Fresh Produce Conversion Program is that if foods were pre-prepared, they would be more likely to get eaten. Chop those vegetables into edible portions, include an easy recipe, and maybe add another simple ingredient, and their chances of getting eaten likely gets better.

It takes training, equipment, and lots of logistics to safely make snack-size sticks out of bulk carrots and coleslaw starter kits out of cabbage in a short amount of time, which is why Spring says it hasn't been done before.

"Giving them food that is pre-prepped on the scale we are talking about, that's new," she says.

Spring also sees potential for the new program to coordinate with Food Gatherers' Community Kitchen Job Training Program, which provides basic culinary instruction for low-income and at-risk youth. Spring says the program could provide a "win-win" opportunity where students could build skills by preparing food while providing a much-needed service.

"Folks who are food insecure are also more likely to have nutrition-related illnesses," Spring says. "The emphasis on healthy food that is easily prepared and eaten is really critical."

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