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New Grant Fuels Fight to Reduce Food Insecurity During Pandemic

UnitedHealthcare is awarding $1 million in Empowering Health grants to four community-based organizations in Nebraska to expand access to care and address the social determinants of health, including access to fresh, nutritious produce. (Pixabay)
UnitedHealthcare is awarding $1 million in Empowering Health grants to four community-based organizations in Nebraska to expand access to care and address the social determinants of health, including access to fresh, nutritious produce. (Pixabay)
July 16, 2020

OMAHA, Neb. -- Food pantries in Nebraska already stretched thin before the COVID-19 health emergency are getting new fuel for their efforts to meet the nutrition needs of families impacted by the pandemic's economic fallout.

Mike Hornacek, president of the Omaha group Together, says thanks to a new grant, more than 30 new garden beds and a new delivery program will connect struggling residents in quarantine or lockdown with fresh produce.

"And for the people in our community that these home deliveries are going to, because a lot of them do have potentially underlying health conditions," says Hornacek, "the more nutritious food that we can provide is better for their health."

In addition to keeping food pantry shelves stocked, expanding community gardens and delivering food, Together will use the new funds, totaling $355,000, to transform nutrition and cooking classes -- put on hold for safe social distancing -- into online video courses.

Hornacek says people in Nebraska have a strong work ethic, and before the pandemic most people seeking assistance were employed, but at low-wage jobs. Hornacek notes Nebraska ranks near the top nationally in the number of people working multiple jobs still struggling to make ends meet.

He says an unexpectedly high utility bill or car repair is all it takes to fall behind.

"In Omaha, you have roughly 300,000 households in the greater metropolitan area," says Hornacek. "About 72,000 of those earn less than $25,000 a year as a household."

In 2019, Hornacek's group helped 42,000 Nebraskans stretch their food budgets. Hornacek says more than 60,000 have gotten help in the past four months.

Together is one of four community-based groups in Nebraska selected to receive a total of $1 million in grant money from UnitedHealthcare. More information on how individuals and businesses can support the group's work is available at togetheromaha.org.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - NE