Healthy eating program expands in Suffolk

A healthy eating program designed to encourage the purchase of fruits and vegetables by low-income Suffolk County diabetes patients has expanded.

For nearly a year, Riverhead-based Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County (CCE Suffolk) has sponsored the Fruit & Veggie Prescription program where low-income diabetes patients have earned vouchers for free fruits and vegetables by attending nutrition workshops led by a certified CCE Suffolk Nutrition Educator.

Workshop attendees, who comprise diabetes patients treated at any of the 11 Sun River Health Clinics around the county, have received a $20 voucher for the purchase of produce for each of any of the 12 different workshops offered, amounting to a maximum of $240 in vouchers per patient, according to CCE Suffolk.

The vouchers had only been redeemable at four locations: the Gala Foods supermarket in Brentwood, the 20-acre Thera Farms in Brentwood, CTown in Huntington Station, and Fine Fare Foods in Riverhead. But now the program has expanded to include any of Stop & Shop’s 49 stores in Nassau or Suffolk counties. Vouchers are also valid at Stop & Shop stores in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Jersey, and elsewhere in the state of New York.

“We’re thrilled to partner with Stop & Shop to take our Fruit & Veggie Prescription program to new heights,” Vanessa Lockel, executive director of CCE Suffolk, said in a written statement. “This collaboration not only expands the reach of our program, but also ensures that diabetes patients in our community have easier access to fresh produce.”

Also, instead of vouchers, participants now receive prepaid debit cards through Fresh Connect, a technology-enabled food prescription program that addresses health disparities by enabling healthcare providers to prescribe fresh produce. Stop & Shop is the first major retailer in the country to partner with Fresh Connect, which is operated by About Fresh, a Boston-based, nonprofit that addresses food insecurity.

“Stop & Shop has a proud history of supporting our community members, and we recognize the important role we play in improving access to healthy and affordable food,” Jennifer Barr, director of External Communications and Community Relations for Stop & Shop, said in the statement. “Fruits and vegetables constitute an indispensable component of a healthy diet. By working together with CCE Suffolk and About Fresh, Stop & Shop will help elevate the quality of life for thousands of Long Islanders.”

As part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s commitment to the Biden-Harris National Strategy on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health, the Community Education program at CCE Suffolk will be receiving more than $420,000 to support the Fruit & Veggie Prescription program, according to the statement. The start-up costs of adding Fresh Connect to the program were covered by a $10,500 grant from Stop & Shop. More than $100,000 in vouchers will be distributed.

For more information about the CCE Suffolk’s Fruit & Veggie Prescription program, contact Fruit & Vegetable Prescription Program Manager Christina Nadolne at [email protected].

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