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Filling the Gaps Post-COVID with the new FRESH Program

Colorado Food Bank Volunteers Unloading a Truck
Volunteers unload bananas to distribute to clients via the new FRESH program // Photo by Caitlyn Barnett

Like everything in its wake, COVID-19 completely uprooted and transformed Food Bank of the Rockies’ operations. As need grew by 60-80% in the communities we serve, we dug in and faced the challenge with determination and creativity, often with the assistance of government initiatives such as the USDA Coronavirus Food Assistance Program’s (CFAP) Farmers to Families Food Box program.

The Farmers to Families Food Box program was developed, funded, and implemented by the USDA in response to farmers having excess product due to canceled food service contracts. It involved granting contracts to food service distributors to have them purchase excess produce, meat, and dairy products from farmers, pack them in individual family-sized boxes, and deliver them to food banks like Food Bank of the Rockies across the U.S.

“This was a win-win-win—farmers were able to sell their products, food service distributors were able to run their lines and keep their staff employed, and food banks received pre-packed boxes of high-quality food that were convenient to distribute to the growing number of individuals and families in need,” said Erin Pulling, Food Bank of the Rockies president and CEO. “From May 2020 to May 2021, we received over 1.2 million boxes containing more than 30 million pounds of meat, dairy, and fresh produce to provide to our clients.”

a large box of yellow and orange bell peppers
Bell peppers are just one of many vegetables that are included in the 1.2 million pounds of produce procured monthly for FRESH // Photo by Aditi Desai

“Regularly consuming a variety of nutrients from fresh, colorful fruits and vegetables may help prevent chronic disease and improve overall diet quality,” said Jonelle Addabbo, registered dietitian nutritionist and government programs supervisor at Food Bank of the Rockies. “Our FRESH program aims to increase clients’ access to produce, encouraging more frequent consumption and offsetting the cost burden often faced when purchasing these items at the grocery store.”

In April 2021, the USDA announced that the Farmers to Families Food Box program would be discontinued after May 31, 2021, in order to allocate funds into other, longer-standing federal nutrition programs. Throughout the pandemic, CFAP and programs such as The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) played an integral role in our fight against food insecurity. That’s why as soon as we were informed of CFAP’s impending cessation, we knew that finding an apt replacement would be paramount to continuing and advancing our mission of bringing nutritious food to anyone facing hunger throughout our 53-county service area in Wyoming and Colorado.

“Based on the positive feedback from our more than 800 Hunger Relief Partners regarding the Farmers to Families Food Box program, Food Bank of the Rockies decided to create the FRESH program to fill the gap,” Pulling said. “Using our equipment, resources, and food-sourcing expertise, we will source 1.2 million pounds of produce each month at a cost of $300,000 a month, build mixed pallets of four to five different produce items, and deliver these pallets to agencies at no cost across our service area.”

a box of pineapple
Pineapples are a highly requested item from several communities served by Food Bank of the Rockies // Photo by Caitlyn Barnett

Food Bank of the Rockies distributed 166,000 Farmers to Families Food Boxes per month during the program’s tenure. For FRESH, we will prioritize sourcing from local distributors and growers for meat, dairy, fruit, and vegetables. To help us in our mission to end hunger one nutritious meal at a time, please donate at foodbankrockies.org/donate.

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