The best part of working at Second Harvest is knowing that our programs are making a tremendous difference in the health of low-income residents throughout Santa Cruz County. One program in particular is changing lives in a pretty dramatic way and we wanted to share a recent success story with you.
Passion For Produce combines nutrition education with market-style fresh produce distributions twice monthly at accessible locations, such as schools, churches, community centers and farm worker housing complexes. Second Harvest currently offers 700 nutrition classes annually at 30 sites.
The curriculum teaches people how to lose weight and stay healthy by avoiding foods high in sugar, fat and salt, reading food labels, and exercising. Amongst peers, participants find the support and encouragement they need to make lasting lifestyle changes. Access to fresh fruits and vegetables, which are often out of reach for the working poor in our community, makes it less problematic to avoid cheap, more readily available processed foods.Lois, one of several Nutrition Ambassadors at Inner Light Ministries in Soquel, began attending Second Harvest’s Nutrition Education classes at the church a little over two years ago. To date, she has lost 82 pounds and feels confident she will continue to lose more weight with the support of her peers.
Lois says she never read food labels before she learned how in the Passion For Produce class. She also learned about portion control and stopped drinking soda when she saw how much sugar she was putting into her body every day and how bad it was for her.
Just as important was the support she received and continues to receive from Second Harvest staff and other volunteers at the church. “We all became friends and we support each other,” she says. “I feel like they are my family. They hug me and tell me how proud they are of me.”
Lois says she was very thin and active when she was younger, but a serious car accident led to depression and weight gain. She tried several weight loss programs in the past and says that none of them worked. As a diabetic, her health was going to be in serious jeopardy if she didn’t start losing weight. “Without this program, I would never have changed,” says Lois. “It has taken the loneliness away from me because I get to be with people. I am so grateful.”
The volunteers at Inner Light work hard to make food distributions run smoothly and ensure that the low-income clients they serve are treated with dignity in a welcoming environment that is more like a small community. They serve an average of 130 people each week and have had as many 180 people.
According to Lois, if it wasn’t for Passion For Produce, she and her husband couldn’t afford the fruits and vegetables that allow them to prepare healthy meals. “I use a small plate and fill it with lots of vegetables,” she says. “I’ve learned how to prepare nutritious foods I’ve never eaten before.”
“I used to be a giver,” Lois explains. “We had money but now things have changed. Now I need help. It was embarrassing at first but I am grateful. My husband has come to accept it and the food and support has made a big difference for us.”
“This is where I found my inner peace,” she adds. “I feel different. I don’t feel angry or nervous. I’ve forgiven myself for my mistakes. I’m happier than I’ve been in a long time.”
Lois agreed to share her story because she wants to inspire others. “It’s never too late to get healthy again,” she says. “I know I still have a long way to go but I don’t believe in giving up.”