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A healthy-eating program for low-income people with diabetes is expanding. The program, an initiative of Riverhead-based Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) of Suffolk County, is now available across Long Island, after it was first launched in Suffolk County, thanks to a partnership with Stop & Shop.

The Fruit & Veggie Prescription program, which started out at four Suffolk County grocery stores, is now available at Stop & Shops across Long Island, as well as Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Jersey, and elsewhere in New York. That brings the total number of participating stores to about 400.

“We’re thrilled to partner with Stop & Shop to take our Fruit & Veggie Prescription program to new heights,” Vanessa Lockel, executive director of CCE Suffolk, said in a written statement.

“This collaboration not only expands the reach of our program, but also ensures that diabetes patients in our community have easier access to fresh produce,” she added.

The expansion of the program comes at a time when, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, food and nutrition insecurity puts people at risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Adults who experience food and nutrition insecurity are two to three times more likely to have diabetes than people who do not, researchers say. Lower-quality foods that are high in added sugars, saturated fat, and salt tend to be cheaper and can increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

In Suffolk County, the healthy food program was launched by Cornell Cooperative in 2023. With this program, low-income diabetes patients at any of the 11 Sun River Health Clinics in Suffolk are provided with vouchers for free fruits and vegetables by attending nutrition workshops led by a certified CCE Suffolk nutrition educator.

The workshops are in English and Spanish and are designed to arm participants with the knowledge they need about healthy food choices to control their diabetes.

Now, with the expansion of the program, participants receive prepaid debit cards through Fresh Connect, a technology-enabled food prescription program that addresses health disparities by enabling healthcare providers to prescribe fresh produce. Fresh Connect, which is operated by About Fresh, a Boston-based, not-for-profit organization that addresses food insecurity.

“Stop & Shop has a proud history of supporting our community members, and we recognize the important role we play in improving access to healthy and affordable food,” Jennifer Barr, director of external communications and community relations of Stop & Shop, said in a written statement.

“By working together with CCE Suffolk and About Fresh, Stop & Shop will help elevate the quality of life for thousands of Long Islanders,” Barr added.

“The combination of education and access to fresh, healthy foods can have a significant impact on those with diabetes,” Josh Trautwein, co-founder and CEO of About Fresh, said in a written statement.

“We are thrilled to partner with Stop & Shop and Cornell Cooperative Extension on this program and to help participants access healthy food,” he added.

“While type 1 diabetes requires insulin therapy and type 2 diabetes generally does not, individuals with either type can be treated with the help of proper nutrition,” Anne Kauffman Nolon, Sun River Health CEO, said in a written statement. “Consumption of fruits and vegetables can be very helpful, and the Fresh Connect program makes it easier for our patients to purchase fresh produce.”

The Community Education program at CCE Suffolk will be receiving more than $420,000 in federal funds to support the Fruit & Veggie Prescription program. The start-up costs of adding Fresh Connect to the program were covered by a $10,500 grant from Stop & Shop. More than $100,000 in vouchers will be distributed.     

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