$250K grant will start new food and nutrition program through Community Action, Cooperative Extension

By Ginny Kropf, correspondent Posted 3 October 2022 at 11:00 am

ALBION – Community Action and Cornell Cooperative Extension are announcing approval of a new food and nutrition program.

This new grant to benefit Orleans County is for $250,000 from Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield of Western New York’s Blue Fund. The grant will support a new program of Community Action and Cornell Cooperative Extension called Rx: Stone Soup Success.

In the story “Stone Soup,” a delicious soup emerged as different ingredients were found, even though in the beginning of the story all that was available was a stone, a pot and some water, said Community Action’s director Renee Hungerford. Ingredients came about through generosity and eventually something wonderful resulted, even though at first they thought they had nothing.

“We sometimes offer ‘Pop Up’ pantry food distributions, but sometimes find people don’t know how to prepare some of the ingredients,” Hungerford said.

“Other times they may not have the tools and utensils to prepare a meal. This program will arm people with the tools, the knowledge and the access to healthy ingredients they need, and at the same time, benefit our local farmers and our community.”

Hungerford continued to explain how she got the idea for such a program. A few years back, her husband Mark was volunteering at a food pantry in Medina and came home with a bunch of tamarinds. He said he took them because no one chooses them because they don’t know what to do with them.

“Being an avid cook, I did some research, found some recipes and made wonderful dishes with them,” Renee said. “The thought always stuck in my mind that we provide food to people who need it, but if they don’t know what to do with it or if they don’t have the tools to prepare it, it doesn’t really help.”

A few years later, after becoming director of Community Action, Renee said she was sitting in a conference room with Robert Batt, director of Cornell Cooperative Extension; Jackie Dunham from Community Action; and Matt Holland, grant writer, and they were brainstorming what they could do with a grant opportunity in which they could all partner.

“We talked a bit about a program I really liked at a medical center that I visited that did food prescriptions,” Renee explained. “We started to toss that idea around and then combined it with the idea of providing people with the knowledge and the tools to prepare food that was available. Robert pulled all the ideas together into a program concept that progresses from learning how to prepare food, to receiving the necessary tools, to working with local medical providers and farm markets to create a food prescription program.

“Matt took this information and applied for the grant, and out of hundreds of applicants, we were chosen as one of the 16 recipients of the grant. This definitely is a team effort and we are proud to be working with these distinguished partners in improving the health in the communities we serve. I want to give special thanks to Matt Holland of the United Way of Orleans County for assisting us in writing this grant.”

Renee said prescriptions for healthy food items will encourage people to make healthy choices and our hope is this will contribute to healthier people with better health outcomes.

The Blue Fund’s annual grant program is designed to have a positive impact on behavioral health, cardiovascular health, health care workforce development, maternal health and healthy children, High Mark said in a press release Sept. 21.

The organization also announced Blue Fund’s total investment in Western New York communities is nearly $15 million over the past five years. The health plan has made a commitment to invest $7 annually though the Blue Fund and other community investments and partnerships.

In announcing this latest round of grants, Highmark BCBSWNY’s vice president of community affairs said of the $3.1 million in grants, “Every day we see the impact of our Blue Fund investments in the community and are proud to invest an additional $3.1 million to help fund these extraordinary nonprofit partners and programs.”

Highmark BCBSWNY launched the Blue Fund in July 2018 to support organizations and initiatives that work collaboratively to address key health areas and demonstrate enhanced measurable outcomes for the community.

In the past five years, the Blue Fund’s total investment in Western New York communities is nearly $15 million. The health plan has made a commitment to invest $7 million annually through the Blue Fund and other community investments and partnerships.