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Food box program still 'alive and well'

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After some initial confusion over the Cloverbelt Co-op program opening a distribution centre in Fort Frances, those behind the “Healthy Living Food Box” would like to reassure residents that their program won't be affected.

In fact, it's still running smoothly, with close to 350 boxes of fruits and vegetables being distributed last Wednesday.

“The food box program is alive and well,” said program co-ordinator Anne Marie Armstrong.

"We will be 12 years old in November.

“The Cloverbelt program does not impact what we do,” she added.

The not-for-profit “Healthy Living Food Box” program is open to everyone and operates out of the Sunset Country Métis Hall, where people place their orders on the first Wednesday of the month from 11 a.m.-4:30 p.m.

Those who placed orders then pick up their food boxes there every third Wednesday of the month from 12 p.m.-5:00 p.m.

Armstrong said the program is a way of providing access to healthy and affordable fruits and vegetables to everyone in the district.

It also offers great value for those looking to eat healthy food with the low price of $20 per box.

“It's economical, they get a good value for their dollar,” Armstrong reasoned.

“We are about quality and quantity, so we try to put as much as we can put in there for the $20 that they pay,” she explained.

“If you priced out the food box or bought this food at a grocery store, it can vary anywhere from $30 to $45 of what you pay for $20 here,” said fellow program co-ordinator Janet Drennan, a registered dietitian and Nutrition Lead at the Gizhewaadiziwin Health Access Centre here.

This month's food box contained cauliflower, bananas, oranges, broccoli, lettuce, red peppers, mushrooms, tomatoes, green onions, apples, and local potatoes.

The program tries to source its produce locally when possible.

“We try to do local as best as we can,” Armstrong said.

“Our potatoes always come from the Jacob Gerber farm," she noted. ”They're local.

“And in the gardening season, we try and access from our farmers.”

The Healthy Living Food Box Program is important because it helps to support healthy eating habits, said Drennan.

“To have a healthy diet, you want to make sure you include your fruits and vegetables,” she noted.

“It is essential to get enough nutrients, fibre, vitamins, and minerals.”

A healthy diet that includes fruits and vegetables also will help reduce the risk of chronic disease, Drennan added.

Armstrong is thankful to have had the program be so successful since it began in 2006, attributing a lot of that to the work done by their volunteers.

“We're not-for-profit, and we thank our volunteers who come out and volunteer their time on that third Wednesday of the month to help us through the day,” she lauded.

“It is very much a community-driven program,” she stressed.

“Without the volunteers, we would not be able to do it.”

Armstrong said the program is in need of more volunteers and noted that many of the current volunteers have been with the program since it started.

Robert Schulz has been part of the program for 10-and-a-half years now and finds it to be very rewarding.

“I find it a worthwhile program and I do what I can to help out,” he remarked.

“If you have free time, it's one day a month and you don't have to stay all day long.”

“Why not come out and give a hand here?” Schulz added.

Those interested in volunteering can contact Drennan through the Gizhewaadiziwin Health Access Centre at 274-3131.

Armstrong, meanwhile, looks forward to continuing the food box program and consistently providing healthy fruits and vegetables to district residents.

“And programs like the Cloverbelt Co-op just complement access to healthy foods for everybody and makes it more affordable,” she reasoned.

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