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Pediatrician-Created Program Fights Food Insecurity With Free Produce

The Dr. Yum Project logo

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, more than 15 million households in the country are food insecure. These are people who live without reliable access to affordable, nutritious food. One pediatrician, Dr. Nimali Fernando, has teamed up with nonprofits to help change that, and help bring nutritious eating habits to those in need through The Doctor Yum Project, which gives people free fresh produce, along with the resources they need for preparing the fresh food.

Fernando, based in Fredericksburg, Virginia, says the program has been successful in her local area and could easily be replicated around the country.

“We have a dire need for families to have access to nutritious foods, but many are not able to get it on a regular basis,” said Fernando. “This proven program introduces them to a new way of eating and helps lay the foundation for raising healthy kids.”

A joint collaboration, the Dr. Yum Project, Virginia Community Food Connections, and the local WIC offices have secured a grant for the project through the Virginia Department of Health. Each week, produce is delivered to a community kitchen with cold storage capabilities. There, teen volunteers work on Sunday afternoons to pack cooler bags with a variety of fresh produce provided by local farmers. Each produce pack is then taken to area health departments and WIC clinics, where a food tasting is held in the lobby.

The produce packs are given out, along with the educational information to WIC clients during their regular visit. The recipients can then take the produce pack to the farmer’s market to have it refilled up to three times for free.

“Getting fresh produce into the hands of those who are considered food insecure is a major step in the right direction,” said Heidi DiEugenio, director of the Doctor Yum Project. “They are being introduced to healthy produce, how to prepare it, where they can find it, and why it’s so important for their families. This is a win-win for everyone in the community, and we are proud to be a part of it.”

The Doctor Yum Project also offers healthy cooking classes, child nutrition classes, cooking camps for kids, hands-on cooking instruction for families, first foods classes, a teaching garden, an online tools to help families make healthier meals, and a preschool nutrition program, with 40 classrooms and almost 600 participating preschoolers.

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