Let’s face it, the economy has its ups and downs and nearly everyone in this fast-paced society goes through hard times. Poverty does not discriminate. Life is not a planned journey. Situations arise all the time that make positive eating choices seem impossible, inconvenient, and unaffordable.
In Vero Beach, there is no excuse for unhealthy eating habits when programs like United Against Poverty’s Member Food Share Program exists.
Briana and Steven Calabrese are a local married couple who aim to eat healthy most of the time. Having just welcomed their third child into the world, they understand the challenges of budgeting and living a healthy lifestyle. While they raise their little ones, they are learning to balance out faith, family, and finances in the best – and most economical ways – possible.
Steven has a culinary background, and Briana has her education in nursing. The husband and wife mutually agree to make organic food choices a priority and refuse to fall into any routine that includes fast food or junk.
In 2016, Briana was introduced to the Member Food Share program, located at 1360 28th St. in Vero Beach. She experienced the difference that United Against Poverty’s mission was able to make in the lives of locals who could use the store not only to save money, but to choose smart, balanced, healthy eating rather than jumping in line at the closest fast food joint with a dollar menu.
“As a young growing family who tries very hard to eat healthy, there is no way we could afford to do all of our shopping at the local grocery store,” Briana explained. “What impresses me is the variety and quality for the price. We eat almost strictly organic and can get many items from there.” She and her husband enjoy getting kombucha, fresh vegetables, and various other unique food finds that are often looked past in chain stores either because of unpopularity or high prices.
As for other stores, Briana said they occasionally go to Publix and once a month they shop Costco for organic meat products.
Steven, youth pastor for Sebastian Christian Church, enjoys cooking flavorful meals that he can sit down and eat as a family, with friends, colleagues or relatives. Skilled in culinary arts, he appreciates meals that have precision for quality and savory tastes that can be appreciated.
Originally founded in 2003 by Austin and Ginny Hunt, the formerly named Harvest Food Outreach Center provides food resources to families and individuals living in what’s considered “poverty.”
Jeff Francisco, Director of Development for United Against Poverty says the organization as a whole is dedicated to giving locals “a hand up, not simply a hand-out.” Anyone whose yearly income is 200% below the poverty line, qualifies to apply to become a member.
For Indian River County residents, those living in financial distress has increased since a 2017 report, at 51%. That means that over half of the county’s residents cannot afford the basic necessities of living for an average home.
The member share grocery program gets daily deliveries of fresh (and organic) produce, and provides consistent stock of assorted household items, non-perishable items, gluten-free, baby products, baked goods, frozen items, sodas, water, and health and beauty items. Their inventory includes ever-changing products, and their efforts are continually expanding.
“Dignity and integrity play an important part in the grocery shopping experience,” Francisco explained. While the floors are plain concrete, the aisles are narrow, and the shopping carts are all donated from random places, the quality and variety of the products offered fall nothing short of fabulous.
Gene Fox works with the organization to teach Dynamic Dinners on a Dollar, a life skills class which teaches how to create healthy, wholesome meals on a budget using resources available.
“Creativity and innovation are key when working with available means,” Fox said.
No recipes are followed. There is no shopping list. He prepares a meal and then offers insight to those in attendance.
“The class is geared toward those who receive assistance or food donations,” Fox explained. “I see what is available at the cost share grocery store, and where the best deals are in our local supermarkets, then discuss the meal that was created. The goal is to plan and prepare sensible, balanced meals which are practical and convenient, while keeping within prudent means.”
To find out more about United Against Poverty and programs offered, visit their website https://upirc.org/ or find them on Facebook.