Grantee Blog 2020

“¡Ah, pepinos!” – Reflections on the Relaunch of Paterson’s Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program

“¡Ah, pepinos!”, meaning “Ah, cucumbers!” in Spanish, was probably the most common thing I heard from parents at the Madison Ave Community Center on our first day of relaunching the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program (FFVP) after a month-long hiatus. Many families seemed pleasantly surprised to find something fresh mixed in with the pre-packaged and processed foods they generally received as part of the school district’s emergency meal distribution program. This response from parents speaks to the importance of FFVP and the amount of support it has within the community.

FFVP was originally conceived as a federally funded program that would subsidize the purchase of fresh fruits and vegetables for K-12 students served at school during non-meal times. With in-person classes suspended due to Covid, however, the program has given schools additional flexibility. For Paterson, this has meant incorporating fresh fruits and vegetables into the grab-and-go school meals being offered at its distribution sites.

As the Food Corps service member assigned to United Way of Passaic County, I have been working alongside the school district with managing FFVP, mainly entailing figuring out what and how much produce to order, and helping out cafeteria staff bag and prepare all the produce for parents to pick up. Being in this position has helped me understand the ins and outs of food procurement, has (hopefully) relieved some of the time burden on the school district, and has helped United Way implement its goal of local food procurement. Since the last week we have distributed cucumbers, apples, and bell peppers all of which were sourced right here in New Jersey.

There are plenty of reasons for supporting local food procurement through FFVP. The traceability aspect, the fact that I can point to Sheppard Farms of Cedarville, NJ as my supplier of bell peppers, is a major positive in that it ensures the food we serve our kids is of the highest quality. One direction I would like to take local food procurement is more toward supporting small community gardens where the proceeds are more widely benefiting the community. If even a small share of the more than a quarter million dollar FFVP budget for Paterson school district was used to patronize local community gardens it could have a huge impact on the ability of those gardens to be economically secure and continue serving their communities.

As FFVP is relaunching, some things I will be prioritizing (in line with United Way’s strategic goal of improving affordable healthy food access) include producing informational material that promotes kids eating more fruits and vegetables, supporting more hyper-local food procurement centered around small community gardens, and expanding school meal distribution to ensure more children are benefiting from FFVP. My hope is that by the end of this year we will be able to point to the success of the program in expanding fresh fruit and vegetable availability, accessibility, and utilization in Paterson, as well as fueling local economies and empowering our communities.

About the Grantee

United Way of Passaic County

United Way of Passaic County is an organization committed to mobilizing the caring power of the communities it serves to tackle chronic issues, such as hunger and financial illiteracy. It is also involved in helping public schools with their food procurement to ensure kids have access to food that is safe, nutritious, and locally sourced.