Durango resident Jim Eaton lost 140 pounds in 10 months. His secret: backstroke swimming and eating vegetables from the free Manna Market produce stand at Durango’s soup kitchen.
Three food-centric nonprofits – The Garden Project of Southwest Colorado, The Good Food Collective and Manna soup kitchen – are working this summer to provide fresh produce to more people, including those who are unable to drive to Manna Market, said Ann Morse, executive director of Manna.
To ensure transportation is not a barrier to eating well, the nonprofits are working to deliver weekly food boxes to clients of the Durango-La Plata Senior Center, Women’s Resource Center, Roberta Shirley Head Start Center and Pediatric Associates of Durango, said Brooke Frazer, Manna garden and food security programs manager for The Garden Project.
The nonprofits are also distributing food at a secret location for immigrants, she said.
A two-year grant from the Colorado Health Foundation is funding the effort, she said.
The fresh food produced by local farms is expected to improve residents’ health by decreasing their reliance on calorie-dense foods and nonperishable items, which can increase their risk for heart disease and other chronic diseases, she said.
“If you are food insecure, you are always having to make that decision between buying something that’s nutrient dense versus calorie dense,” Frazer said.
The nonprofit plans to distribute 32 boxes full of seasonal vegetables each week for 12 weeks to residents through the program, Frazer said. The boxes feature gleaned fruit, such as apricots, provided by the Good Food Collective, she said.
Residents receive the boxes for $10 a week if they are not signed up for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program formerly known as food stamps. Those who are signed up for SNAP receive boxes for $5 a week. The boxes are currently free while the nonprofits set up a payment system, Morse said.
The grant also provides funds for soup kitchen staff to sign residents up for SNAP benefits, Morse said.
SNAP and cash payments for the food boxes will help the program sustain itself over time and support the farmers who are providing the produce, Morse said.
“It’s creating a viable local food system for people of low income,” she said.
At the Senior Center, the nonprofits are also giving away produce to residents who may be interested in a smaller quantity of food than they would receive in a box.
Helen Jauregui was among those who picked up a few vegetables from the Manna Market Produce Share on Tuesday.
“It’s a great thing people are sharing things with the folks that are here because (the seniors) might not have access to the fresh veggies, and frankly I might not either,” she said.