Food for Thought: Huron Valley PACE and Local Partners Provide Healthy Food Pantry Options for PACE Participants
“The population we serve at Huron Valley PACE is often affected by limited access to food or challenges getting enough food at home, due to financial or mobility issues or not enough opportunities to get to a grocery store,” says PACE dietitian and nutrition manager, Mieko Diener, MPH, RD. “Having a food pantry gives our participants some of their autonomy back.”
Approximately 130 PACE participants utilize the pantry each month, as well as 50 PACE team members. Last year, Food Gatherers provided over $31,000 in food support to Huron Valley PACE, providing 186 unique households the equivalent of 14,548 meals. Fresh produce made up 34.6% of the total food items.
In addition to Food Gatherers, Huron Valley PACE partners with Ypsilanti Meals on Wheels and Zilke Farm in Milan which prepares meals served hot in the Huron Valley PACE Day Center or frozen to send home with participants. “Together, we’re able to provide participants with a variety of healthy options to choose from,” says Mieko.
In 2021, a grant from the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation helped to expand PACE’s pantry, and the Michigan Dairy Council provided a new refrigerator which allows for additional perishable items, such as milk, eggs, and fresh produce.
Once a month, the PACE dietitians offer “Food for Thought” presentations on topics regarding nutrition education or cooking demonstrations, such as how to steam vegetables in the microwave.
Says Mieko, “One thing I love about the food pantry is, when we share ways to make dietary changes with our participants, I can send them home that very day with those food items from the pantry. We can see an immediate increase in their intake of that food and help promote healthy eating habits.”
Mieko is grateful to team members like Val McMurtrie, Huron Valley PACE Recreation Therapy Assistant, who does the ordering, and the five volunteers who help participants “shop” in the pantry. Each participant can choose fruits, vegetables, protein, grains, and non-food items, such as toiletry and paper products.
“Thanks to the volunteers, our participants are able to shop and have input into the foods they like,” says Mieko. “As nutritionists, we really focus on participants’ self-efficacy. With the food pantry, we can guide them to make healthy choices by having healthy options available to choose from. For those who still like to cook and prepare foods, it also gives them that opportunity.”