Benita Zahn

Education a big step in fighting hunger

By Benita Zahn

Feeding the hungry is only part of the challenge in the Capital Region. Helping them maximize the benefits they receive requires education, because much of what we consider healthy food is expensive.

NewsChannel 13 (Albany) joined with SEFCU and other local TV stations to raise awareness about hunger in our community and to raise funds. Part of that awareness involves a trip to the farm for students of seven elementary schools in Albany. Even on a rainy day, the lessons can help fill plates and stomachs.

On a damp, cool day, a stop at the blacksmith's barn at the old Stevens Farm in Albany is welcome. The farm, now owned by the city of Albany, serves as an education center for schoolchildren. This stop is sort of the appetizer for a meal that aims to teach the children about nutrition and introduce them to healthy food choices a family's limited budget might not provide for.

"People may not know that many local farmers markets do accept SNAP or supplemental nutrition assistance benefits," explained Sara LaFountain-Bagrow with the Capital Region Eat Smart New York program, part of Cornell Cooperative Extension. She notes many cases, buying $5 worth of produce with a SNAP benefit card at a farmers markets yields a $2 bonus, expanding the reach of those dollars.

"We offer a lot of classes about how you can incorporate fruits and veggies in low cost ways," she pointed out.

So the lessons learned and information provided on the farm have wide-reaching benefits for families. That's especially important for Albany school kids. As LaFountain-Bagrow points out, 90 percent of them are eligible to receive a reduced or free lunch in school, which raises concerns about summer months when school is closed.

"We are able to direct them to places to go where they can get a summer meal," explained Tom Gallagher with Cornell Cooperative Extension.
Gallagher manages the farm and has worked with Albany schoolchildren for years. He says the lessons learned -- even on a rainy day that keep them in these special classrooms, are long lasting, yielding healthy results.

"I run into kids after the fact and they'll say, 'Hi, Farmer Tom,' and they were here in second grade and all of a sudden, this particular kid is eighth grade now, but he remembers his trip to the farm. So if they remember being here, maybe they remember a little bit about what we taught him," hoped Gallagher.

To help fight hunger, NewsChannel 13 is teaming up with SEFCU and the other local news stations. For the month of June, SEFCU will match your donation, dollar for dollar to help feed local families. To donate, text 4-Food to 91-999. You can also click here.

More information:

Capital Region Eat Smart New York Program

Summer Food Service Program

Benita Zahn, DPS, co-anchors NewsChannel 13 Live at 5 and 6 with Jim Kambrich. She is also the health reporter, covering issues including wellness, treatment breakthroughs, aging, nutrition and the latest health care trends. She also co-produces and hosts "Health LINK" Thursday nights on WMHT and writes a weekly column for the ’Live Smart’ page in the Times Union.

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