September is “Fruits and Veggies: More Matters Month” (September 2016)
“Fruits and Veggies: More Matters Month” is a time for everyone to reflect on the importance of balanced diets and healthy eating habits to one’s overall well-being. For Cornerstones, however, finding ways to improve access to healthy food for our low-income neighbors is a year-round endeavor.
A long-time provider of food assistance to the greater Reston-Herndon region, Cornerstones offers a full-time pantry program that provides fresh and non-perishable foods, as well as care management and wellness support to clients. Additionally, Cornerstones operates a smaller “wellness kitchen” in its Herndon community center and provides healthy cooking classes at four community-based centers in Reston. This service provides food resources to those struggling financially who might otherwise have to decide between paying rent or utilities and feeding their families.
What we have found through these services over the years is that quantity of food isn’t the only important factor in serving the needs of our community. Location of food assistance, accessibility to the pantries, and availability of nutritious food options are also equally important in addressing our client needs more holistically.
Having a pantry located where clients live or on a public transportation route improves accessibility to food resources; and operating the pantry during hours that fit within working parents’ schedules – including early morning, afternoon and some weekend hours – as well as having translation services available, improve the ease and process for clients who need this service.
The availability of wholesome, nutritious foods is another factor Cornerstones works to address. Many of the least expensive foods available in the grocery store are canned and are high in sodium. To improve access to healthier options, Cornerstones has worked with the County to facilitate the “SNAP-at-market” pilot program which allows clients to use their SNAP benefits (formerly food stamps) to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables at the Lake Anne Farmers Market with a matching dollar bonus, enabling clients to obtain even more healthy food.
Even though the location of Cornerstones’ food pantries makes food more accessible to clients, at times they are not accessible at all. During the record-breaking snowfall in late January of this year, which made it very difficult for many residents to leave their homes, Cornerstones and members of the Herndon Food Network – a partnership of local schools, nonprofits, faith communities, and the County which focuses on addressing youth hunger in schools in the Herndon area – worked together to deliver food to homes of some vulnerable children and youth who depend on free and reduced lunch. This new partnership is another example of the way Cornerstones is convening key stakeholders in the community for collective impact; working together to reduce student hunger, utilizing available food resources more efficiently, considering options for better food storage and transportation, and being flexible in addressing potential food shortage crises as they unfold.
You can also be part of this critical endeavor in our community. Consider donating cash or needed food items to the food pantries; sign up to volunteer with SNAP-at-market or a food bank; or simply help spread the word among your friends by liking Cornerstones’ Facebook page or tweeting about the work we and our partners do in the community.
May I wish you all a healthy eating month as you enjoy more fruits and veggies!