Local residents in need are eating better and healthier lately, thanks in part to two community organizations receiving $5,000 grants from the Rohnert Park Foundation small grants program. Rohnert Park-based Neighbors Organized Against Hunger, or NOAH, and Petaluma Bounty are both able to further their missions of helping provide food for families facing multiple barriers to accessing healthy food through the use of these grants.
NOAH, since its inception in 2005, provides a weekly food pantry for residents in need in Rohnert Park, Cotati and Penngrove. The volunteer-run non-profit will use the $5,000 to supplement the food donated by the community, primarily through purchasing other protein sources from the Redwood Empire Food Bank – food that the community supported organization normally cannot afford.
“The grant will be used to enhance what we give out and offer our clients every week such as us being able to purchase chicken, or ground turkey,” says Darlene Phillips, Secretary for Neighbors Organized Against Hunger. “Last week we were able to buy ground beef. These are things that our normal budget would not allow us to buy. So getting this grant was just a windfall for us and certainly for our clients as well, because that type of thing is really important for their diets and for their well-being.”
Presently the NOAH food pantry, which is open every Wed. from 4 to 6 p.m. across from Cross and Crown Lutheran Church on Snyder Lane in Rohnert Park serves 100 to 150 families every week. The only criteria needed for people to pick up food at the pantry is an I.D. showing they are a resident of Rohnert Park, Penngrove or Cotati. However, nobody in need is turned away.
Most food is given by private donations and fresh produce sometimes comes from Sonoma State University gardens, the new community garden in Rohnert Park, and Lydia Commons Community Garden. NOAH receives a few other $1,500 to $2,000 small grants such as one from the Rotary Club, and the organization also completes a few small fundraisers per year, such as currently selling See’s Candy. NOAH also always welcomes individuals or groups who would like to volunteer and anyone willing to help is encouraged to come to the pantry Wednesdays at noon to help sort and give out food.
“Rohnert Park is so generous when it comes to helping us,” says Phillips. “We are so appreciative of receiving part of the foundation money. That was a wonderful addition and surprise to us that the City of Rohnert Park was able to do that with the casino money.”
Like NOAH, Petaluma Bounty aims to bring food to low-income residents. The organization created a synergistic solution between farmers and residents that benefits them both. Petaluma Bounty was formed in 2006 with a mission “to create a thriving local food system with healthy food for everyone through collaboration, education and promoting self-reliance.” Their community solutions have grown a thriving local food system where farmers can flourish and everyone – including low-income individuals – can eat healthy, locally grown produce.
The $5,000 grant that Petaluma Bounty received from the Rohnert Park Foundation will go towards their Produce Prescription program, specifically in Rohnert Park. This program introduces low-income families to local food sources by distributing vouchers for the Rohnert Park Farmers’ Market to those most in need.
The goal of the Produce Prescription program is to increase awareness and utilization of local farmer’s markets and the incentive programs lower the economic barriers that have kept low-income customers from frequenting farmer’s markets.
“Different farmer’s markets have different utilization rates, which depends on the community members that live near that farmer’s market, how customers are purchasing their fruits and vegetables and what the environment is like of that farmer’s market,” says Suzi Grady, Program Director of Petaluma Bounty. “In Rohnert Park the utilization rates were very small. So this [the Rohnert Park Foundation grant funding] is a one-time initiative, the Produce Prescription, that we use to connect low-income consumers with this larger initiative; to connect people, to get them to try the market with the hopes that they’ll see the benefit and try to work it into their schedule.”
Through a partnership between the Rohnert Park farmer’s market, the City of Rohnert Park, and the Rohnert Park Health Center, families in need are identified and given $20 vouchers to use on fresh produce at the farmer’s market.
“This initiative will increase the customer base at the Rohnert Park farmer’s market as well as encourage patients of the Rohnert Park Health Center to use their local farmer’s market,” says Grady. “We felt that we needed to raise awareness and get people to consider using the farmer’s market.”
According to Grady, 170 patients received Produce Prescription booklets with a value of $20 each. The booklets contained five $4 coupons for fruits and vegetables. As of the end of the season, 262 coupons had been utilized. The rest of the vouchers will be distributed when the farmer’s market reopens in June of 2019.
“My favorite part of this initiative is the positive feedback that we receive from the health care providers and how much they appreciate providing vouchers that can address the direct needs that their low-income patients face,” says Grady. “Due to the positive feedback from staff, PHC is considering a longer-term pilot to distribute vouchers when patients return for key follow-up visits. I really appreciate the creativity and willingness of the Petaluma Health Center and Rohnert Park staff to bring healthy, affordable, locally grown food to the forefront of well-being. This initiative helps make the healthy choice easier, expands the customer base of local small scale farms, and connects low-income community members to a longer-term incentive program that benefits all stakeholders.”