Jessica Hughes’ wellness story started at the grocery store, where she overheard a conversation between a father and one of his three children. Looking at the food in their basket, the little girl asked her dad if they could buy some strawberries. He replied that they couldn’t afford it, but would get a strawberry flavoured product instead.
This struck a chord with Jessica, who could relate to this experience herself and had seen others in her community face the same issue. Inspired, she got together with a group of colleagues to brainstorm ways to improve the access of wholesome, nutritious food to seniors, students and low-income families.
The Fredericton-based group developed a program founded on successful models being used in Moncton and Saint John, which involved buying fresh produce in bulk and reselling it to members who would in turn benefit from the cost savings, and the healthy nutritious food! Starting out with 40 members, the growth has been astounding. Today, Community Food Smart (CFS) delivers monthly bags of fresh fruit and vegetables to over 1,000 happy members, thanks to over 20 drop-off locations in Fredericton, for about less than half of what they would pay at the grocery store.
CFS has enjoyed the support of multiple volunteers and businesses in the community. Groups presently on board include the Multicultural Association of Fredericton, Salvation Army, United Way, UNB, Horizon Health Clinics, Oromocto Food Bank and the Doone Street Tenants Association. Other organizations such as the VON, parish nurses, churches, family resource centres and seniors centres are operating as promoters, connecting new members to distributors. Cé D’ICI, a non-profit catering organization with established food supply networks, orders the produce on behalf of CFS, and local Sobeys stores are demonstrating their support by providing reusable bags for packing the produce.
Even with all that support, the rapid growth of CFS has been a challenge, but it is one that Jessica relishes. She credits the continuous support of the United Way, the Greater Fredericton Social Innovation and the many volunteers who have stepped up to assist with ensuring the program’s success. The goal now is to extend the reach of CFS into rural communities, where the need for affordable, nutritious food is often greatest. Through a partnership with Horizon Health, new packing centres were established in many surrounding rural communities across the region to make it as easy as possible for members in these areas to access affordable, nutritious produce. The group also works on improving food literacy through the inclusion of a feature vegetable each month and encouraging people to grow their own foods. A teaching kitchen offering free cooking classes is also something CFS is looking at for the future.
Jessica’s story is a powerful example of how one little girl’s plea and one person’s desire to help can empower a community to wellness greatness. The successful launch of CFS demonstrates the ability of non-profit and faith-based organizations, government agencies, businesses and volunteers to work together on collaborative wellness solutions.
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