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Food Pantry Seeks To Collect, Distribute Healthier Food Options

Starjournalnow.com file photo

Customers at the Rhinelander Area Food Pantry are seeing healthier food options on the pantry’s shelves.

Together with the UW-Extension-Oneida County office, the RAFP is promoting a healthier diet and improved nutrition with the “Food Drive 5” program which encourages choosing food that is higher in protein, fruit, colorful vegetables, soups and whole grains.

RAFP Executive Director Guy Hansen said that as more families depend on food pantries for a greater share of the food that they eat, it is even “more important that foods offered provide good nutrition.” In addition to canned foods with reduced sodium and whole-grain pasta and cereal, the pantry has been getting fresh produce as often as it’s available.

“Everything here is a choice for our customers, so we’re going to have it,” said Jane Motowski, who manages the RAFP. “If it’s available and they want it they’ll get it, if not, it’s their choice is the way I see it.”

Recent trade wars and tariffs enacted between the U.S. and other countries including have resulted in an unexpected surplus of fruit. As part of a relief package from the federal government offered to farmers, the USDA has been purchasing surplus produce which is donated to food banks and child nutrition programs throughout the United States, including in the Northwoods.

“I’ve gotten apples, oranges, potatoes, onions,” said RAFP manager Jane Motowski. “If I see it, I order it. The price is right – zero – it’s free.” The surplus food is distributed through Feeding America, a large domestic hunger relief organization. Motowski said she checks their website daily and places her order at the last minute to get the best food available. “Unfortunately when you want to eat healthy, it’s more expensive,” Motowski said, both for the pantry and for folks who donate food items.

The other half of the equation that will make Food Drive 5 program a success is requesting that donations are made with an emphasis on those healthier choices. Pantry volunteers will begin working in the organization’s green house next month to prep for the summer community garden.

The garden provides a variety of produce that for customers that is not only healthy, but locally produced. For more information on the Food Drive 5, visit RhinelanderFoodPantry.org.

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