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Health-in-a-box brings food options to seniors

University of Minnesota-Duluth student and Community Partners intern Taylor Holm and Two Harbors Area Food Shelf volunteer Mary Prestidge coordinated the packing and delivery of food to Two Harbors senior citizens last Saturday. The effort, called Health–in–a–­ Box, allows income-eligible seniors to order from a list of healthy foods which are then brought to their homes. Submitted photo.

Last week was the berries! Thirty-seven seniors living in Two Harbors high-rises received deliveries of grocery items and produce (including blueberries) as part of a new program – a collaboration between Community Partners and the Two Harbors Area Food Shelf. Dubbed “Health- in- a- Box,” the initiative is intended to offer nutritious food options to low-income elders.

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According to organizers, a list of available items is presented to program participants. The seniors choose what they’d like, then volunteers gather the items from the food shelf, pack them in boxes and deliver the groceries on a designated day. Each box contains an average of 20 pounds of food. Lois Oberg, a resident of Bayview Terrace, said that she and her neighbors have been pleased with the monthly deliveries.

“I like it because I get some things I like, like blueberries,” she said, “I made some blueberry muffins last week and some blueberry pancakes.” By all accounts, the summer berries were a hit with Health– in–a–Box recipients.

“The frozen blueberries are a favorite among many of the participants,” Community Partners director Kirsten Cruikshank, who said that overall feedback from seniors has been encouraging.

“We have heard many positive comments about the program.”

Health–in–a–Box began with a vision shared by Cruikshank and Jan O’Donnell, acting director of the THAFS. Concerned about the number of elderly residents who may not be able to get to the food shelf, the pair sought a solution. An extra set of hands was needed, however, to bring the vision to life. Enter Taylor Holm, a University of Minnesota-Duluth student working on a master’s degree in social work. Holm met Cruikshank at UMD and approached her about an internship with Community Partners. From there, Holm met O’Donnell.

“I got in touch with Jan and realized that seniors just weren’t coming in to the food shelf,” said Holm. Elders who were believed to meet the low-income criteria were approached about accessing food shelf resources, but many voiced reluctance. According to O’Donnell, some were concerned that they would be “taking food from others.” Others said that they could “make do” with what they had. The new program lowers some of the hurdles to getting a healthy variety of food.

“With Health- in- a -Box, we take the food shelf to them,” O”Donnell said. The project kicked off in January with deliveries to Bay View only. Harbor Point was added this month

“We started the program very quietly, because we didn’t have any idea how it would take off. Two months into it and it has officially exploded,” added O’Donnell.

The project relies on the help of volunteers to pack and deliver the boxes. Last week members of Two Harbors High School’s National Honor Society donated their time to the effort and community volunteers have helped, too. More volunteers are always welcome.

So far, funding for the project has come from the food shelf budget, but the long range goal is to make the program more widely available, which will mean finding additional sources of financial support. O’Donnell said that the THAFS may consider a special fundraising drive for Health- in- a- Box.

“If funding is secured it will be offered to senior citizens living in the community on limited income who cannot get to the food shelf,” Cruikshank said. Holm concurred.

“We’re looking forward to getting more people on board,” she said. “We want to expand into the community in the future.”

In the meantime, folks at the two high-rises are enjoying the service and the addition of new items for mealtimes.

“There are quite a few here who are taking advantage of (the program),” said Oberg, “it comes in handy.”