MALONE –– A program that provides low-income households with expanded access to fresh produce has seen a significant reduction in use since the COVID-19 pandemic struck the region, the head of the Franklin County Public Health Services told the county Legislature on Thursday.

But a grant the agency recently received could help turn that around, health services Director Katie Strack said.

The New York State Association of County Health Officials has awarded the local agency a $6,700 grant to address food insecurity, support vulnerable populations and provide community education to promote healthier eating, Strack told legislators. The grant will pay for the Joint Council for Economic Opportunity to hire a “food access coordinator” who will work with local housing authorities to make sure eligible residents take advantage of the food program and to provide education about both nutrition and the available programs that can make healthy foods more accessible.

A program that provided low-income residents with vouchers that could be used at farmers markets saw a sharp drop-off in use this year, a drop Strack attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic. The outbreak made many participants in the program –– particularly the elder, who are at higher risk of contracting the disease –– wary of using the JCEO-sponsored mobile farmers market, which brought fresh local produce to low-income and senior housing project, even though the voucher program essentially doubled the users’ purchasing power, Strack said.

In order to address that concern, the food access coordinator will work with the JCEO and housing authority officials to offer a “concierge-Instacart kind of delivery service” through which eligible residents can order foodstuffs from the markets and have their orders delivered to the homes. The system will make it easier for people to access fresh produce, which will help make sure those involved eat healthier, Strack said.

The deliveries will also include literature about the benefits of healthy eating and provide suggestions and recipes for using the fresh produce, Strack said.

County manager Donna Kissane suggested that the coordinator also work with the county Office for the Aging and the county’s adult centers to make sure the target population is being served.

The grant will fund the program for 15 weeks, Strack said, and the JCEO has agreed to continue it beyond that time period if data collected through the program shows it is effective and additional funding can be obtained.

The Legislature voted unanimously to authorize acceptance of the grant and to sign an agreement with the JCEO to operate the program.

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Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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