Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Healthier options for food assistance grow

WSDA Food Assistance Program

Healthy produce options displayed.
Photo credit: Thurston County Food Bank. 
Offering healthier food options at food banks and meal programs boosts the health of Washington’s low-income families and helps strengthen communities. How are we doing at increasing the nutrition available through the emergency food system? By compiling the data, we can now measure our progress.

WSDA’s Food Assistance Program is starting a second year of collecting information from the state’s 500 food banks, pantries and meal programs. The Healthier Food Options Reporting (HFOR) project measures the types and amounts of foods available to people who need food assistance.

The foods are categorized as healthy or less healthy. Healthy is defined as fruits, vegetables, dairy, proteins, grains and water. Less healthy options are defined as processed foods, others and unknown. The first quarter data for 2015 showed a slight increase in healthier options, compared to the baseline established in 2014. See our web page and fact sheet for results.

Why does this data matter?

Food banks, pantries and meal programs can share this information with donors, and it can help with targeting donations, fundraising activities and grant opportunities. This in turn can improve the quality of products entering the donated food system and encourage strategic partnerships to keep this improvement going.

One example is the Rotary Club’s Farm to Food Pantry pilot program, in which WSDA is a partner. Through other community partnerships and funding, this program supports food pantries that work with their area farmers to provide fresh and local produce for clients. Currently, farms in six Washington counties are participating.  
Volunteers gleaning produce that will be donated to a local food pantry.
Photo credit: Alyce Hansen, Rotary International 

The Healthier Food Options data has also become a measure within the Governor’s Results Washington goal of Healthy and Safe Communities. WSDA and our partners included a metric to improve healthier options available for food assistance.

What you can do

We are striving for 100 percent reporting on this measure from local emergency food assistance programs. To that end, we have revised and improved the Healthier Food Options reporting forms and instructions to make them more streamlined and user-friendly. If you’re involved in local food assistance efforts, please help us gather this important data.

If you donate to your local food assistance program, you can help expand the healthy options available by donating:
  • ·         Fresh, frozen, or canned fruits and vegetables, preferably low sodium and sugar.
  • ·         Fluid milk products, cheese, or yogurt.
  • ·         Rich sources of protein such as meat, beans, nuts or seeds. 
  • ·         Grain products such as bread, rice, oats, pasta, etc.

Providing healthier food to struggling individuals, families and children benefits us all by improving the overall health of Washingtonians.