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Veggie Wheels continues service through pandemic challenges

Wed, Aug 26th 2020 11:00 am

The Veggie Wheels program is entering the penultimate week of its sixth summer, having overcome the unique circumstances and challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic to support a healthier tomorrow for disadvantaged in Cattaraugus County.

Every week, Veggie Wheels volunteers deliver fresh produce to residents at Alder, Seneca, West and Spring Courts as well as Aspen Tower and Manor in Olean and Hillview Manor and Hillview Homes in Salamanca, thus enriching the nutrition of between 120 to 150 members of our community.

Veggie Wheels leaders established a fund at the Cattaraugus Region Community Foundation in 2018 to ensure the continued viability of the program.  The agency also received a $1,000 grant from the WNY COVID-19 Community Response Fund to support its services in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Veggie Wheels has worked to close the gap in access to healthy foods for disadvantaged populations at locations in Cattaraugus County who face challenges in finance, transportation and more in obtaining a healthy diet.

The pandemic has posed additional challenges to that mission, said Athena Godet-Calogeras, who resumed management of the Veggie Wheels program due to Cattaraugus County Health Department employees needing to focus on duties related to COVID-19, but the program and its volunteers have overcome those challenges to lead another successful year.

“Because of the pandemic, we have limited contact with the people we serve,” said Godet-Calogeras. “When we’re finished with the packaging, we welcome each recipient, make sure masks are worn and social distance is maintained, and offer each a bag of produce (sometimes with recipes) that we’ve picked up that morning from Great Valley Berry Patch, Wilson’s Farm. Miller’s Farm, and Tan Childs Blueberries and packaged prior to distribution.”

In addition to the program’s health-focused mission, the limited contact of the volunteers has provided valuable social interaction for the program recipients during a time of heightened seclusion.

“We get a lot of expressions of gratitude and sometimes, from those we’ve known in prior Veggie Wheels summers,” said Godet-Calogeras. “We have had more personal comments this year like the man who told me he had esophageal cancer, or the woman whose hours in a new job working in a local hotel had recently been cut, or the woman who lives with pain from multiple sclerosis.”

Cattaraugus Region Community Foundation Executive Director Karen Niemic Buchheit praised Veggie Wheels efforts to continue its work during a time when even more Cattaraugus County residents are in need.

“With the economic impact of COVID-19 and the increased risk for older people to be in public, the need for Veggie Wheels and its services are greater than ever,” said Buchheit. “It takes a lot of planning and ingenuity to execute a program like this in a way that is safe for the public and for the volunteers. Veggie Wheels has done just that and made sure that it can provide healthy food for those that need it.”

Donations can be made to the Veggie Wheels Fund at CRCF, 301 North Union St., Suite 203, Olean, NY 14760 or online at cattfoundation.org.

The Cattaraugus Region Community Foundation is the area’s supportive, responsive and trusted community foundation. Established in 1994, CRCF 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 [email protected], or visit online at www.cattfoundation.org. CRCF is also on Facebook (facebook.com/cattfoundation) and Twitter (@CattFoundation).