Yes, we have bananas

Michael Moore / Sentinel Staff

Claudia Brooks transfers bananas into a container at Southwestern Community Services in Keene Friday, where the N.H. Healthy Families Green to Go van made a stop.

Bags of fresh produce and a healthy serving of nutritional advice were offered to Keene residents Friday morning, as part of a statewide initiative to provide support to people who lack dependable access to healthy, high-quality food.

The Green to Go project — in its first year — is a mobile pantry provided through N.H. Healthy Families’ Gateway Services program. Gateway Services identifies social service care gaps and builds access to supports for communities across the state.

Green to Go teamed for this event with Southwestern Community Services, at 63 Community Way in Keene, and the van set up in the agency’s parking lot Friday from 10 a.m. to noon.

Fliers were given to display at Southwestern’s office and distribute, and the event was also publicized through posts on N.H. Healthy Families’ social media.

Kerry Pascetta, director of marketing for N.H. Healthy Families, said people who stop by the van are given a tote bag full of fresh fruits and vegetables, and, if eligible, the option to sign up for the state’s Medicaid program. Socks are also provided, as it’s a common need among low-income populations, she said.

Nurses were also on-site to discuss diabetes management and nutrition education.

“Instead of just selling insurance, we wanted to get out into the communities and talk to people,” Pascetta explained.

On a typical day, she said, Green to Go will see between 100 and 200 people. In Keene, this was no different, with just over 200 people seen in the two-hour period.

Each community in New Hampshire has vast differences, Pascetta noted, which changes how the organization prepares for each visit.

She said N.H. Healthy Families was told the Elm City has a wide range of people who are food insecure — meaning they don’t know where their next meal is coming from — noting they saw young mothers and senior citizens alike during Friday’s visit.

Keene was also described as a “food desert,” Pascetta added, meaning there is limited access to affordable and nutritious foods.

“Every town is different,” she said. “We try to customize to that.”

The van has traveled to “every corner of the state,” she added, and focuses on communities with high food-insecurity rates.

In Cheshire County, 7,340 people are food insecure, according to data from the N.H. Food Bank.

Statewide, one in nine people live with food insecurity, the food bank’s data state. About 12 percent of children and 6 percent of seniors fall into this category.

Sarah Burke, director of Southwestern Community Services’ Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program, said there are 770 people enrolled. The program provides supplemental food, health-care referrals and nutrition education to women and children of low income.

Burke added that there are also 45 Keene residents enrolled in Southwestern Community Services’ Commodity Supplemental Foods Program, for people of low income over the age of 60.

“The N.H. Healthy Families Green to Go van provided another way to encourage healthy food choices,” Burke said in an email Friday afternoon.

Olivia Belanger can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1439, or obelanger@keenesentinel.com. Follow her on Twitter @OBelangerKS.