Low-income diabetes patients will have widened access to fruits and vegetables in supermarkets islandwide.

A healthy eating program designed to encourage the purchase of fruits and vegetables by low-income Suffolk County diabetes patients has been greatly expanded thanks to the participation of the Stop & Shop grocery chain.


For nearly a year, Riverhead-based Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County (CCE Suffolk) has sponsored the Fruit & Veggie Prescription program where low-income diabetes patients have earned vouchers for free fruits and vegetables by attending nutrition workshops led by a certified CCE Suffolk Nutrition Educator.


Workshop attendees, who comprise diabetes patients being treated at any of eleven Sun River Health Clinics around the county, have received a $20 voucher for the purchase of produce for each of any of the twelve different workshops offered, amounting to a maximum of $240 in vouchers per patient.


The workshops – conducted in English and Spanish – are designed to empower participants with the knowledge and skills needed to make healthier food choices and help manage their condition through a balanced diet. Vouchers make it easier for patients to incorporate fresh, nutritious produce into their daily meals.


Until today’s launch of the Stop & Shop collaboration, vouchers were only redeemable at four locations: the Gala Foods supermarket in Brentwood, the 20-acre Thera Farms in Brentwood, CTown in Huntington Station, and Fine Fare Foods in Riverhead.


Now, with the grocery chain’s involvement, participants may purchase fruits and vegetables at any of Stop & Shop’s 49 stores in Nassau or Suffolk counties. Vouchers are also valid at any of approximately 350 additional Stop & Shop stores in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Jersey, and elsewhere in the state of New York.


Also, instead of vouchers, participants now receive prepaid debit cards through Fresh Connect, a technology-enabled food prescription program that addresses health disparities by enabling healthcare providers to prescribe fresh produce. Stop & Shop is the first major retailer in the country to partner with Fresh Connect, which is operated by About Fresh, a Boston-based, not-for-profit organization that addresses food insecurity.


The joint project was announced today at the Stop & Shop supermarket at 421 Commack Road in Deer Park.


“We’re thrilled to partner with Stop & Shop to take our Fruit & Veggie Prescription program to new heights,” said Vanessa Lockel, Executive Director of CCE Suffolk. “This collaboration not only expands the reach of our program, but also ensures that diabetes patients in our community have easier access to fresh produce.”


“Stop & Shop has a proud history of supporting our community members, and we recognize the important role we play in improving access to healthy and affordable food,” said Jennifer Barr, Director of External Communications and Community Relations of Stop & Shop. “Fruits and vegetables constitute an indispensable component of a healthy diet. By working together with CCE Suffolk and About Fresh, Stop & Shop will help elevate the quality of life for thousands of Long Islanders.”


“The combination of education and access to fresh, healthy foods can have a significant impact on those with diabetes,” said Josh Trautwein, co-founder and CEO of About Fresh. “We are thrilled to partner with Stop & Shop and Cornell Cooperative Extension on this program and to help participants access healthy food.”


“While type 1 diabetes requires insulin therapy and type 2 diabetes generally does not, individuals with either type can be treated with the help of proper nutrition,” said Anne Kauffman Nolon, MPH, Sun River Health CEO. “Consumption of fruits and vegetables can be very helpful, and the Fresh Connect program makes it easier for our patients to purchase fresh produce.”


“I am proud to support the CCE Suffolk Fruit & Veggie Prescription program as it takes a proactive approach to addressing the nutritional challenges faced by low-income diabetes patients in our community. By combining education with tangible support, this initiative empowers individuals to make informed and healthier food choices,” said Rich Schaffer, Town of Babylon Supervisor. “The Town of Babylon is committed to fostering initiatives that enhance the well-being of our residents, and this program aligns perfectly with our mission to create a healthier and more resilient community for all.”


As part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s commitment to the Biden-Harris National Strategy on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health, the Community Education program at CCE Suffolk will be receiving more than $420,000 to support the Fruit & Veggie Prescription program. The start-up costs of adding Fresh Connect to the program were covered by a $10,500 grant from Stop & Shop. More than $100,000 in vouchers will be distributed.     


According to 2018 data from the NYS Department of Health, the diabetes rate in Suffolk County is 10.1 percent, or more than 150,000 people. The county percentage is consistent with the statewide average of 11.0 percent. 


Sun River Health healthcare providers will be monitoring patients before and after the program to compare data. 


Research cited by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that food and nutrition insecurity puts people at risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Adults who experience food and nutrition insecurity are two to three times more likely to have diabetes than people who do not. Lower-quality foods that are high in added sugars, saturated fat, and salt tend to be cheaper and can increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.


According to The Mayo Clinic, those with diabetes should focus on eating healthy foods in order to control blood sugar, manage weight, and control such heart disease risk factors as high blood pressure and high blood fats.


For more information about the CCE Suffolk’s Fruit & Veggie Prescription program, contact Fruit & Vegetable Prescription Program Manager Christina Nadolne at cmn89@cornell.edu



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