Durham nonprofit pivots to provide free healthy food during pandemic

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Monday, April 12, 2021
Nonprofit pivots to help fight hunger during pandemic
A nonprofit group used stimulus funds to help keep people fed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- Thankfully, the nonprofit and volunteer organizations in the Triangle have so far met the need to feed families during the COVID-19 pandemic.

That includes the Produce Prescription Program run by Reinvestment Partners in Durham, which was providing nutritious food before the pandemic and hopes to find funding to continue long afterward.

Vegetables are a part of most healthy diets, especially diets prescribed by doctors.

And that's why prior to the pandemic the Durham nonprofit program used referrals from doctors at free clinics to provide vouchers for fruits and vegetables.

"Historically we've run it through clinics where people with diet-related illness can get access to fruits and vegetables," said Sam Hoeffler.

Hoeffler is the program manager for Reinvestment Partners.

She said she and others there realized that during the pandemic even more people would need access to free fruits and vegetables.

So they pivoted using funds from the first 2020 stimulus to offer the program to others outside their network of health clinics.

They called it the Healthy Helping Program.

It used funds from the CARES Act and lasted for three months Hoeffler.

"They received $40 per month to buy fruits and vegetables at Food Lion," she explained. "They can choose any fruits and vegetables that they want."

Program participant Tracey Little of Hillsborough told ABC11 that "it helped a whole lot, you know. At times, you know, when I didn't have money, I had food. So I was thankful for that."

Little was laid off from her taxi-driving job at the start of the pandemic when that industry was hit hard by stay-at-home orders.

The single mother of a 9-year-old daughter liked how the vouchers were only for produce.

"Vegetables are nutritional, we need them, has plenty of vitamins in it," Little said.

The pandemic has shown people the vital role that nonprofits such as Reinvestment Partners play even when there's not a worldwide crisis, Hoeffler said.

"During the pandemic, folks have realized that everybody needs help sometimes," she said.

She hopes the latest stimulus package will enable the Healthy Helpings Program to be offered again to those hurt by the pandemic.

Little hopes so too and she has a message for those who are in need.

"A closed mouth doesn't get fed. So if you're hungry, you know, let somebody know. Let your neighbor know you know," Little said. "There's help out there, you know. People are willing to help. You just have to know where to go. And don't be ashamed, you know. If you need help, you need help."