Written By Heather McLeod
6 years ago, I was hired as the new Community Outreach Coordinator at Many Mansions. This was a new position for MM, and it put me in charge of bringing in-kind donations to the residents of Many Mansions.
My first task was to reach out to all support staff to see what the actual in-kind needs were for our residents. Too much surprise, many of the Case Managers replied with…HEALTHY FOOD!
While our residents received non-perishable foods from time to time, the residents wanted more. Many of them struggled with diabetes, heart disease, and other such ailments which were increased by eating unhealthy canned or high sodium foods. The residents said they couldn’t afford fresh fruits and vegetables—as we all know, healthy eating can be expensive!
After receiving this information, I was on a mission to bring healthy food to our residents. I reached out to local grocery stores, farms and farmer’s markets with no such luck. But I didn’t give up. That’s when a college intern introduced me a wonderful organization called Food Forward. Food Forward brings surplus fruit and vegetables that would normally go to waste to people in need. They collect produce from backyard fruit trees, public orchards, farmer’s markets, and more. This produce is distributed to local service agencies like Many Mansions and seemed like a great fit for our residents.
It was the perfect opportunity. Soon after, Many Mansions started to participate in the Farmer’s Market Recovery Program. We would pick up produce twice a month (which eventually turned into weekly) from the Thousand Oaks Farmer’s Market. This produce would be distributed to our residents at several of our properties.
Our residents were thrilled when they came into the community room and saw this fresh, colorful, free produce. Many of them knew exactly what each item was and how to cook them. They would discuss recipes and were excited to begin cooking with this newly donated food!
As Food Forward grew, MM received more and more produce and were able to expand this program to reach more of our residents. We currently distribute produce at 5 properties in Thousand Oaks to over 100 residents. The program has become so popular! Residents look forward to receiving the produce each and every week. The program is especially appreciated at Esseff Village. The residents know exactly what day and what time it comes and are waiting in the community room for it to be delivered. The popular item is strawberries…and there never seems to be enough to go around! To see the residents so excited about healthy produce and taking pride in their health and nutrition was the best part for me.
I believe that Food Forward has played such a positive role in the lives of our residents and brought an unusual donation request to Many Mansions. Like our mission states, we bring life-enriching services to our residents, and bringing healthy food into our residents’ homes has definitely done that.