Four Utica-area organizations receive Community Impact Grants

Cornell Cooperative Extension staff provide nutrition education tours at Aldi, with the help of an American Heart Association Community Impact grant.

Four Mohawk Valley organizations have received Community Impact Grants from the American Heart Association, for a total of $33,000. This year’s grant recipients all focus on healthy eating and food availability.

“The Community Impact Grants help local groups start or continue projects aimed at improving the health of our community,” said Christine Kisiel, executive director of the American Heart Association in the Greater Utica Area. “The American Heart Association sought innovative programs that address social influencers of health. Since 2011, the local American Heart Association has been able to award $290,000 with 72 grants to 32 deserving organizations who are working to improve the health of the Mohawk Valley, and we look forward to seeing how this year’s grant winners improve the health of our community.”

The recipients and their projects are:

Cornell Cooperative Extension Oneida County: Cooking Matters Market Tours Expansion & Pilot Project, Utica

Families on tight budgets report the cost of healthy groceries is their biggest barrier to nutritious cooking at home. Nutrition and smart shopping skills help overcome that barrier. This project will provide tours of various grocery retailers and Oneida Public Market, and will include research-based education on reading food labels, comparing unit prices and nutritional values, incorporating whole grains in household diets, and identifying multiple ways to purchase and cook produce. These principles represent the foundation of the national “Cooking Matters” curriculum used by Cornell Cooperative Extension Oneida. Tours will include an overview of local programs such as SNAP/EBT (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance/Electronic Benefits), Fresh Connect Checks, and Farmers Market Nutrition Checks to increase buying power.

“Receiving a Community Impact Award from the American Heart Association is perfectly timed with the summer opening of the Oneida County Public Market in Utica,” said Mary Beth McEwen, Executive Director, CCE Oneida. “With the generous funding, the SNAP-ED Program at CCE will be offering fun and informative nutrition events at the Saturday Market for the first time this summer, as well as increasing events with local grocery stores through the rest of the year. It’s a rare opportunity for people to learn directly from a nutrition professional for free, and to leave with extra food spending coupons as well.

“These services are more important than ever for CCE Oneida, because issues of hunger, food scarcity, and increasing food prices have really come to the forefront over the past few months under COVID-19,” McEwen continued. “Our staff work very hard to educate consumers on how to stretch their dollars, while still increasing their families’ nutrition, health, and wellness.”

  1. Center for Family Life and Recovery: Bargain Grocery, Cooking, and Connection, Utica

Targeting low-income participants impacted by substance use disorders and mental health, this project will teach the individuals how to make healthy and affordable meals for their families while practicing in fun social engagement, either in very small groups at an appropriate social distance, or by Zoom. Working on foundational recovery and heart health through nutrition and wellness will also be tackled by social engagement. 

This funding from the American Heart Association will allow us to bring people together in a way that offers families the opportunity to connect with others while enhancing the wellness of their families,” said Ambi Daniel, Family Support Navigator of the Center for Family Life and Recovery. “We are using three of our favorite connectors; food, community, and recovery coaching to help make an impact on both heart health and recovery.  This will be the newest arm of Healing Opportunities in Projects of Engagement (HOPE), that has helped many community members engage with new friends, participate in fun activities, laugh, and find a pathway to recovery. We are thankful to do this in partnership with Bargain Grocery, whose goal is to impact our community with nutritious and affordable opportunities.”

  1. Waterville Food Pantry, Weekend Warriors, Waterville 

The American Heart Association Community Impact Grant will allow the Waterville Area Food Pantry to continue its outreach to its at-risk population at an early age.  The Food Pantry will be able to provide healthy food and snacks, and public health information, to the elementary students, and by extension, their entire families, reinforcing the importance of healthy lifestyle choices.  Healthy recipes will accompany the student’s weekly food options.

“The purpose of the Waterville Area Food Pantry is to provide food assistance to income-eligible residents who live in the Waterville Central School District,” said Mary Beth Plourde, executive director of the Waterville Area Food Pantry. “We currently are serving over 100 client households, providing over 4000 meals per month.   We have learned that food insecurity in our rural area continues to rise, especially during this pandemic.  Our Weekend Warriors backpack program provides nutritious food to supplement what families provide on the weekends. This is a backpack consisting of 6-7 items that the children pick up at school on Fridays before leaving for home. In 2019, 4550 bags were packed by volunteers for the children.  The Waterville Area Food Pantry wants to ensure that our students are not hungry over the weekends. The American Heart Association Community Impact Grant will greatly assist us in this endeavor.”

  1. Thea Bowman House, Fresh From the Farm, West Utica

West Utica is identified as having low-food access due to its limited grocery stores, concentrated poverty, and limited access to transportation. Thea Bowman Food Pantry provides frozen, dry and canned foods, and the grant will provide a supplementary selection of fresh produce. Thea Bowman is partnering with Old Path Farm, a vegetable farm which has been growing a wide selection of fruits and vegetables in New Hartford for the past 15 years and selling directly to consumers.  From its beginning, Old Path Farm has been educating their customers on simple vegetable preparation and cooking tips, and customers continually say that this information, coupled with the produce in hand, has inspired them to eat more vegetables.

“We are thrilled to partner with Old Path Farm on this exciting project,” said Jane Domingue, Executive Director, Thea Bowman House. “Our food pantry consumers will be gifted with life-giving nutritional benefits from these beautiful fruits and vegetables. We are so grateful to the American Heart Association for helping Thea Bowman House and Old Path Farm to pilot this exciting program.”