Health Watch: The Food Bank is here to H.E.L.P.

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FAIRBANKS, Alaska - For someone who is newly diagnosed with dietary restrictions, affording healthier foods can be too expensive. The Food Bank, along with the Alaska Health Fair and the Literacy Council recently combined forces to make it a little easier. The Health Education Learning Project, or H.E.L.P., is a program to give nutritional food to those with dietary restrictions, as well as education on a user's personal issues. The Literacy Council provides books and information to the program, while the Alaska Health Fair has staff on sight to explain in more detail the specific dietary needs. The Food Bank collects and provides fresh produce to those that use the program.

To use H.E.L.P., someone must first get a medical referral. Whether someone is new to their diagnoses or not, as long as they can prove to their doctor that they struggle with affording the food that their dietary restrictions require, they are eligible for the services. The Project allows a person to collect 6 pounds of produce a day, and a total of 30 pounds a week.

The program itself is new, with it launching at the beginning of 2019 in January. The Food Banks' Community Development Director, Samantha Kirstein, says the project took off faster than they anticipated. As many as 45 people use the program in a day. That's as much as 270 pounds of produce in one day. That does not account for the other food products that H.E.L.P. provides, such as milk and bread. In total, there are around 400 people currently enrolled in the H.E.L.P. program.

The food that the project disperses is leftovers from their other programs. After food boxes are packed, the excess food is taken to the H.E.L.P. room. Because of that, the amount of food and what types are available varies greatly. When a customer is approved to use the project's services, they are allowed to pick what available food they want. This past Friday, 108 pounds of surplus food was collected. According to one of the workers who was a part of the program from the beginning, that is a light day. On average, the program receives around 300 pounds of food a day.

Kirstein recalls how the program aided a woman on the path to better health.

"One of my favorite stories," began Kirstein; "was a lady who came on one of the first days that we opened. Her sugar numbers at that point were over 300. She couldn't find anything she really liked to eat because she wasn't accustomed to eating fresh food. Eventually she found ways that she could cook it and use it in salads. She came back many days for about 6 weeks. On about the 6th after she had gone to her doctor, she came in and said that her numbers were 108. That's a really good example of the help that we want to be able to provide to people."

The Food Bank is constantly looking for more help and produce to keep up with the H.E.L.P. program as it expands.