Avenues’ food program supports healthy eating

Avenues Supported Living Services is asking the community to provide donations on Giving Tuesday for fuel, which will enable the nonprofit to transport clients to and from work and volunteer positions. Signal file photo

Access to healthier food options can often turn into a challenge for many individuals. Through its supplemental food program, Avenues Supported Living Services has helped make this easier for its clients, but it’s been no easy feat.

“Healthy food is a big necessity,” said Lori Shepard, director of operations for the Valencia-based nonprofit, which assists people with intellectual and developmental disabilities who need support living safely in their own homes, accessing and developing connections in their community in the Santa Clarita and San Fernando valleys.

For just more than a year, Avenues has provided fresh options not always found through food stamps or food pantries by purchasing carts of fresh produce in Los Angeles. Groceries collected through these trips are then distributed to more than 20 of Avenues’ clients.

The program has proven successful among beneficiaries but making it happen has turned more difficult on staff.

“All of these guys can benefit from this service and their health will go up but we do need help,” said Shepard. “Without proper equipment, organization and help, food can go to waste.”

Help did come. In January, the City Council approved $180,000 to cover community service and art projects throughout Santa Clarita, including Avenues. The nonprofit, alongside 18 other organizations including Bridge to Home and the SCV Senior Center, received at least $2,000 each to help fund their programs.

For the third time since Avenues’ establishment in 1997, the city awarded Avenues with $5,000, this time for its supplemental healthy food program.

“We’re very excited and grateful to receive this grant,” said Natalie Cavarretta, Avenues’ director of development. “Most people can’t afford (healthy food). Being able to go and get special foods and veggies helps them tremendously and these funds will help us do so more efficiently.”

In the past, the nonprofit earned a city grant to help expand its office space but with the addition of the food program Avenues sought funds to restructure its Valencia locale.

“By getting the grant, we will be able to get proper shelving, a fridge and food storage containers like Tupperware,” said Shepard. “These funds help coordinate everyone and everything. One of the great things about disability services is that we aren’t competitive and we share. So, I’ll call other nonprofits and let them know that we have food for them to share.”

Avenues has survived off of state funding, donations and fundraising events. Due to state budget cuts in previous years, Shepard said Avenues’ programs and wages for its 80 employees have received the hardest blows.

“Right now, we’re struggling with payroll,” she said. “But these extra services and program would be cut if it wasn’t for things like this (city) grant. We’re very grateful for them.”

To help seek additional funds for its food program and distribution center, Avenues has organized an event, “Painting with a Purpose,” for adults and children on March 27.

From 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at Painting With A Purpose, attendees will have the opportunity to paint with help from a professional instructor. For more information and to register, visit avenuessls.org.

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