This spring, Willing Hands is working with elementary schools and food shelves to target high-value “Healthy Fresh Food Boxes” to families and kids in need. While many existing initiatives are open to everyone, this program fills the need for a more directed food assistance program for children and their families. Backpack programs are helpful because they provide food staples on weekends and holidays when school is not in session. However, they are usually filled with shelf-stable goods rather than items like fresh fruits and vegetables or dairy products.
In Vermont, households with children are twice as likely to experience food insecurity. Of the nearly 30% of Vermont households facing food insecurity, a full 50% report consuming fewer fruits and vegetables since the pandemic began. 1 in 7 New Hampshire residents, including about 22% of households with children, is at risk of going hungry.
Through our Healthy Fresh Food Boxes pilot project, we are testing a process to increase the number of fresh fruits, vegetables, and dairy products available to children. We are working with elementary schools in three Upper Valley locations, whose staff most intimately know their families, in order to most effectively target our fresh food resources. Participating families will receive bags that include milk, cheese, butter, fruit, leafy greens, and other vegetables. In the future, we aim to expand the number of participants and locations with a focus on student populations with high free and reduced lunch rates. By fostering school-food-shelf connections, we aim to create a versatile program that increases food security in our region.