DUQUOIN, Ill.—Aetna Better Health of Illinois is partnering with the Southern Illinois Food Pantry Network (SIFPN) to provide $138,000 worth of professional-grade refrigerators and freezers to 34 food pantries serving the southernmost 16 counties in Illinois.

According to Southern Illinois Healthcare, 80 percent of adults in southern Illinois are not meeting recommended guidelines for daily fruit and vegetable intake. More than 45,000 southern Illinoisans are relying on their local food pantries to access food. In the past, local food pantries reported having to turn perishable donations away because they do not have the capacity to store these types of food.

Aetna’s donation of 51 refrigerators and freezers will allow participating pantries to source more perishable and healthy items to distribute, as opposed to shelf-stable, non-perishable items. Healthy and nutritious food such as fresh produce, dairy products and proteins can be distributed to vulnerable populations of children and adults.

“Food insecurity often leads to poor health outcomes,” said Kim Foltz, CEO of Aetna Better Health of Illinois. “The Southern Illinois Food Pantry Network and its partners provide a critical lifeline to healthy foods for families in hard-to-reach and underserved areas. With 25 percent of residents living in areas designated as food deserts, these pantries provide much-needed access to healthy foods.”

SIFPN and its network of pantries serve a total population of 330,000, a third of whom are Medicaid recipients.

“This partnership with Aetna Better Health of Illinois is helping us meet our mission to reduce hunger and improve the health of our communities through increasing access to healthy and nutritious food,” said Toni Kay Wright, Southern Illinois Food Pantry Network facilitator and Illinois Extension SNAP-Ed educator. “We are excited to support more than 30 area food pantries in their efforts to increasing cold storage in their food pantries to bring healthier, perishable foods to their communities.”

Within DuQuoin, the Western Egyptian Food Pantry, DuQuoin Food Pantry, and Faith Liberty Mission Church Food Pantry each received approximately $7,000 in upgrades to their cold storage for each pantry. The expansion of this equipment will allow these pantries to offer fresh, healthy foods to their clients. Ashley Greer, an outreach specialist with the Western Egyptian Food Pantry, said there has been a rise in individuals coming to the food pantry during these trying times, with most being seniors or disabled individuals. The commercial freezer and refrigerator will be a tremendous help with providing quality, healthy food.

“During the summer we get a lot of produce that requires refrigeration. With our limited space, we have to find other places that can take it or try to give it away that day. This gives us the advantage to be able to keep the produce and have it at peak freshness to accommodate our clients and organize our food pantry the way we need to,” said Greer.

Aetna Better Health of Illinois offers quality, affordable health care to individuals through the State’s HealthChoice Illinois Medicaid program. The health plan and serves nearly 400,000 members in 102 counties.

The Southern Illinois Food Pantry Network works to reduce hunger and improve the health and wellbeing of our communities through access to healthy and nutritious food, education, resources and advocacy. By allocating donations from partnering organizations, they help to transform the lives of residents that face food insecurity in Southern Illinois communities. Learn more at: https://www.hsidn.org/sifpn

SOURCE: Toni Kay Wright, SNAP-Ed educator, tkwright@illinois.edu, (618) 993-3304