Veggie Wheels Fund established at CRCF

The Cattaraugus Region Community Foundation has supported the Veggie Wheels program since its early days, and that support will become more permanent with the Veggie Wheels Fund, an endowment recently established at the Foundation.

The Veggie Wheels program began in 2015 to provide healthy food options in the form of fresh, local vegetables and produce to low-income individuals and families in Cattaraugus County who face diet-related health problems such as obesity, heart disease and diabetes at very high rates.

The program, launched as an initiative through the Cattaraugus County Health Department, has had a noticeable impact, according to Athena Godet-Calogeras, the program’s director.

“Carrot Lady” Bev Bennett serves a salad to a young Salamanca resident at a Veggie Mobile stop in 2017.

More than 60 percent of individuals receiving deliveries from local farms and dietary education from the Veggie Wheels have reported weight loss.

One woman lost 70 pounds after Veggie Wheels resources and education inspired a dramatic dietary change.

But the need continues for low-income families in Cattaraugus County, Godet-Calogeras expressed.

“There is a continuing need in our county to address the problem of poor nutrition and the health conditions, like diabetes, hypertension, and obesity that result,” she said.

“The Veggie Wheels Fund at CRCF offers us a firm foundation to provide the ongoing support that we need as we continue to search out and serve low-income people today and in the future,” Godet-Calogeras continued.

The fund will also allow the public to support the project with tax-deductible contributions, she said. The fund has already received a $5,000 donation from a supporter.

The “Slow Ride” bike ride on May 6 will also raise funds for the Veggie Wheels project. The event, beginning and ending at JCC Olean Campus, is for everyone, biking enthusiast or not. The registration form is available at cattfoundation.org.

CRCF’s board of directors first supported the program with grants in 2016 and 2017 to ensure that the program could expand its services into more low-income housing facilities in Olean and Salamanca.

“The Community Foundation has been both moral encouragement and a financial vitamin boost for the Veggie Mobile,” said Godet-Calogeras. “The Veggie Wheels program works to counter [the county’s poor health conditions] by providing fresh, naturally grown vegetables. We couldn’t do it without funding from the CRCF as well as our other funders.”

“The Cattaraugus Region Community Foundation has been without question one of the biggest supporters of this initiative since its inception,” said Dr. Kevin Watkins, Cattaraugus County public health director. “And because of its continued support, the program continues to be a success each year.”

With the continued support of CRCF and sustainable, consistent funding made possible by the Veggie Wheels Fund, Godet-Calogeras said that the program can pursue new goals

“We would like to reach out to more remote, but needy, areas in our county,” she said. “That would be greatly facilitated with a real, fully equipped Veggie Van that could be driven to those areas with produce and the possibility of demonstrations, etc.”

This partnership with Veggie Wheels fulfills the Foundation’s mission and desire to respond to the health issues impacting Cattaraugus County, said CRCF Executive Director Karen Niemic Buchheit.

“This fund will help ensure that the Veggie Wheels program and its important services are here to stay,” said Buchheit. “Cattaraugus County is ranked among the very worst in overall state health rankings, and one of the main factors is accessibility and lack of resources.

“The Veggie Wheels program is responsive to that and actively engaged in closing the accessibility gap for the underprivileged, elderly and handicapped,” she continued. “Our organization wants to be a player in facilitating that change, and working with Veggie Wheels is another step in that.”

Donations can be made to the Veggie Mobile Fund at CRCF, 301 North Union St., Suite 203, or online at cattfoundation.org.

Established in 1994, the Cattaraugus Region Community Foundation is growing good by connecting donors to the causes they care about most in the region. Grants from the foundation support many areas, including education, scholarships, health care, the arts, community development, human service, and youth development. To learn more, call (716) 301-CRCF (2723), email foundation@cattfoundation.org, or visit online at www.cattfoundation.org. CRCF is also on Facebook (facebook.com/cattfoundation) and Twitter (@CattFoundation).

Note: This story has been updated to a change of name to the Veggie Wheels program.

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