Riverwood gets grant to address hunger among seniors

Aitkin High School Future Farmers of America members helped pack food boxes for the February distribution. Pictured from left are Tryniti Shaffer, Allison Rian, Rachel Johnson, Audrianna Schneider and Rocco DiPaolo.

Riverwood Healthcare Center, with the help of the Aitkin Farmers Market Hub and Aitkin County Public Health, was awarded the Minnesota Local Food Purchase Assistance (LFPA) grant by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA). The LFPA program is a new grant from MDA to fund projects that buy local food, primarily from socially disadvantaged and emerging farmers, and to distribute food to underserved communities.

Riverwood is partnering with the Aitkin Farmers Market Hub to purchase locally grown food from Aitkin County’s very own and nearby farmers. Additionally, Riverwood has partnered with Aitkin County CARE and ANGELS of McGregor to help distribute the food boxes to the senior population they serve.

The grant, which will offer $54,750 for food boxes, administration and outreach costs and transportation, allows Riverwood to procure food from local farmers and distribute food boxes through the Aitkin Farmers Market Hub.

The first boxes distributed in January contained apples, honey, whole wheat flour, cornmeal, wild rice, dry beans, oatmeal, pork chops and ground pork. Together, boxes will be delivered each month from January to May in 2024 and 2025.

“Riverwood is partnering with Aitkin County CARE and ANGELS of McGregor to disburse boxes throughout Aitkin County,” explains Rachel Johnson, population health program manager. “We are providing 30 boxes to each organization, and they will distribute the food to those they have identified as at-risk or food insecure.”

Riverwood is providing the administration of the grant along with outreach efforts within the communities of Aitkin County. Each month areas are identified through Aitkin County CARE and ANGELS. In January, 30 food boxes were distributed in McGrath and 30 in McGregor. In February all 60 boxes will be going to Palisade as this has been identified as a food desert with limited access to local foods.

Riverwood, Aitkin County Public Health’s State Health Improvement Program (SHIP), Aitkin Farmers Market Hub, CARE, and ANGELS meet monthly to discuss the area of highest need and the next location to target with food boxes for seniors.

Johnson adds, “This new food program is offered under our Riverwood Connects community outreach umbrella along with Find Help and Food Rx, which we launched last year. Together with our community partners we are striving to address hunger and improve health for local community members.”

If the Minnesota Department of Agriculture is able to secure additional funding, then there will be an opportunity to extend this program for an additional year. The intent is to assist local farmers with procuring their food during the hardest times of the winter months and to assist food-insecure community members.