After preparing bowls full of carrots, celery, broccoli, cauliflower and apples, Linda McKaig began preparing her last bowl of green peppers.

One by one, she sliced off the tops and dug out the core and seeds.

McKaig works at Pioneer Junior-Senior High School and knows well the eating habits of students.

“Since it’s a pizza day, they will be eating a lot of the vegetables and fruits,” she said.

Pioneer Regional School Corporation food service was recently awarded a community grant by Logansport Memorial Hospital Foundation. The purpose of the grant, according to a news release, is to support the health and wellness of the community.

The school corporation is using the funding to give all students access to fresh fruits and vegetables, something Superintendent Dave Bess believes is important.

“I think it’s a great program,” he said. “It’s great for our children at both schools. It gives our students exposure to different fresh fruits and vegetables available. Some youngsters have not had the experience. This might open their eyes to other food opportunities and goes with our wellness and health classes.”

Terry Farrer, a registered dietitian, said she is pleased to provide healthy food choices to the students.

“The fresh fruits and vegetables program provides students with nutritious snacks and at the same time introduces them to food they may not regularly eat,” she said in the release. “It is important that the students become familiar with the USDA dietary guidelines, which suggest filling your plate with half vegetables and fruit at each meal.”

According to Farrer, the school corporation began offering fresh fruits and vegetables to students in 2002 using funding from the federal government.

For seven years, the school offered the fresh produce every day.

“It got to the point where the government was making it a requirement that all schools applying for the grant had to have at least 50 percent free and reduced lunch,” said Farrer. “We did not have that number, so we didn’t apply. I wanted to continue it because I felt it was important for students.”

At that point, Bess said, the school went looking for other sources of funding.

It turned to the hospital foundation three years ago in hopes of securing a grant.

“We are grateful to the hospital foundation for their continued support,” Bess said. “Without it, I’m not sure we would be able to do much at all.”

The $5,000 grant helps pay a portion of the cost and school lunch money covers the rest, providing Pioneer High School students with a fresh vegetable and fruit cart every Wednesday during lunch period.

Pioneer Elementary School students receive fresh fruits and vegetables on Tuesdays and Thursdays in their classrooms for a snack. The fresh produce is available the entire school year.

“The nutrients you get are obviously essential, and they taste good,” said Farrer. “We want them to be healthy, and we don’t want to continue having obese children who may develop diabetes.”

Farrer said she believes the students have responded in a positive way to the fresh food options.

“I know I have a couple kindergarten classes tell me every time I’m in the classroom they really appreciate the fruits and vegetables,” she said.

• Denise Massie is a staff writer at the Pharos-Tribune. She can be reached at 574-732-5151 or denise.massie@pharostribune.com.

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