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NEW YORK STATE

NYS launches program to bring fresh food to people with mental illness

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Mental health

A $200,000 grant was given to the New York State Office of Mental Health to help people with mental illness gain get fresh, healthy produce.

The grant, from the New York State Health Foundation, will expand the state's FreshConnect Checks Program by bringing mobile farmers markets to congregate housing sites for residents with serious mental illness, according to a news release said. The office will also create a curriculum for residents centered on purchasing, preparing and eating healthy foods.

“People with mental illness often have significantly shorter lifespans than the general population, in large part because of chronic diseases related to an unhealthy diet. This new pilot program will allow us to not only teach people with mental illness about purchasing and preparing fresh healthy foods, it will also increase their access to farm-fresh food," Dr. Ann Sullivan, the mental health office's commissioner, said in the release. "By partnering with local service providers and the NYS Department of Agriculture and Markets, we can make a significant difference in the lives of New Yorkers living with mental illness.”

The news release said 45,000 people with serious mental illness in the state reside in congregate homes.

"These individuals often face challenges in accessing and using fresh, healthy foods. By bringing mobile farmers markets to these congregate settings and engaging residents and residential staff to learn about purchasing, preparing, and consuming healthy foods, OMH will help them build these important skills," the release said. "And by expanding the NYS Department of Agriculture & Markets’ successful mobile markets and FreshConnect Checks Program, residents will have the physical access and purchasing power necessary to enjoy healthy foods."

The Buffalo Federation of Neighborhood Centers (BFNC) and the Rehabilitation Support Services in the Capital District will be the partners for the program's first phase. The office also plans on expanding the pilot program in the future to additional office-licensed housing sites in the future, the news release added.

BFNC and RSS operate community residences and supportive housing programs, both of which offer opportunities to support food access, as well as hands-on food education and preparation.

"OMH will also develop a training module for housing agency staff, who are key to ensuring residents’ access to and consumption of healthy foods," the news release said. "Lessons learned from this pilot will inform future possible expansion of OMH’s mobile market program across New York State."

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