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fresh snack Belle Sherman
Students at Northeast Elementary School have an assortment of locally produced fruits and vegetables to snack on during the school day this fall. The Fresh Snack Program, which distributes produce to schools in the Ithaca City School District, began delivering fruits and vegetables to Northeast Elementary for the first time this fall. Northeast is the sixth elementary school in the district participating in the program, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year.

"The mission of the Fresh Snack Program has been to expand into schools with the lowest incomes," said Katie Church, administrator of the Youth Farm Project, which oversee the Fresh Snack Program. "Northeast, because of the sheer number of students, means that we are serving about 180 students who are eligible for free and reduced lunch."

An estimated 38 percent of the students are eligible for free and reduced lunch at Northeast, which enrolls 470 students and is the largest elementary school in the district. The goal is to add the remaining two elementary schools — Fall Creek and South Hill — to the Fresh Snack Program next fall.

"It's important for us to reach the entire district as there are pockets of students who don't have access to fresh fruits and vegetables throughout the district, not just at specific schools," said Christa Nunez, manager of the Fresh Snack Program.

Expansion into the two elementary schools will require the program to raise $23,000 to sustain the delivery of fresh produce for a three-year period, Nunez said. Most of the funding for the Fresh Snack Program comes from foundations, such as Community Foundation of Tompkins County, which has provided $7,400 in grants to the program over the past two years.

"The Fresh Snack Program teaches meaningful skills to our youth about healthy and socially just food systems, while it fosters good eating habits, providing both short- and long-term impact for our local children," said Janet Cotraccia, chief impact officer of Community Foundation.

The Fresh Snack Program was launched at Beverly J. Martin Elementary School in 2009, and expanded to its second school, Enfield Elementary, in 2014. Over the past three years, it has moved into the Belle Sherman, Caroline and Cayuga Heights schools.

This fall, the program is providing about 4,500 fresh snacks, ranging from strawberries to cauliflower, to the six elementary schools two or three times a week. Besides distributing food, the program also offers nutritional educational to classes at the schools at no charge.

Nunez said she was surprised how receptive the students have been to eating produce, especially foods they've never tried before.

"We've received rave reviews from the kids, some of whom have never even tasted an apple before," she said. "The kids really love being able to hold an apple and eat the whole thing. And when some go out on break and are away for a few weeks, they miss it."

After the program moves into the Fall Creek and South Hill elementary schools next year, organizers hope to expand into Boynton and DeWitt Middle Schools and Ithaca High School. The next goal would be to add schools in other districts in Tompkins County.

The Fresh Snack Program purchases produce from Headwater Food Hub, a distributor in Ontario, Wayne County, which works with local farmers and contracts with GreenStar Natural Food Markets to process the food. Another source of vegetables is the Youth Farm Project, the program's parent organization, which is focused on farm-based social justice education and food access.
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