OLEAN, NY -- Amidst the kids’ shouts of “I love onions. Can I have more onions?” Bev Bennett, better known at Alder Court as the “Carrot Lady” thanks to her carrot costume, invites her friends, all under 5 feet tall, to join her in making a salad.

The Veggie Mobile provides healthy food options to Cattaraugus County public housing residents who frequently face high rates of poverty and diet-related health problems such as obesity, heart disease and diabetes. The project aims to combat these circumstances in Cattaraugus County low-income households.

Thanks in part to a $2,000 grant from the Cattaraugus Region Community Foundation, the Veggie Mobile is serving more needy Olean residents and building more relationships with those residents in its second year.

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According to Athena Godet-Calogeras, Veggie Mobile project director, the Veggie Mobile serves between 125 and 150 people at every Wednesday delivery. And that number continues to grow each week she said.

The project’s impact was noticeable.

“Have you ever seen kids so excited about vegetables?” Ms. Bennett asked as hands around the kids table shot up to request more tomatoes.

The project only served Alder and Seneca Courts residents last year. This year the Veggie Mobile also makes stops at Martha Court and the Olean House thanks to new funding sources like the CRCF grant made from the foundation’s Community Fund, which makes possible grants to important area causes and projects.

Ms. Godet-Calogeras believes the Veggie Mobile has had quite an impact this summer. “We come to them (residents) so they don’t have to go to a food bank or to a church,” she said. “That’s important because 75 percent of the elderly in the housing projects don’t have any form of transportation,” she said.

But for Godet-Calogeras, the program is about even more than bringing healthy foods in the form of fresh vegetables.

“You start to build relationships,” she said. “Soon you know and talk to the people you’re serving each week.”

At first, she said, people were a little hesitant, but there was no shortage of smiles and gratitude as Veggie Mobile volunteers passed out corn, tomatoes, onions and more at Alder Court.

Godet-Calogeras said that the residents constantly express their gratitude. In fact, they help volunteers set up before delivery. The very people the program is meant to serve are now leaving donations in thanks every week, she said.

Who would have known the power an onion has to excite kids and bring people together?

Donations can be made to the Community Fund to benefit important community projects like the Veggie Mobile at CRCF, 301 N. Union St., Suite 203 or online at cattfoundation.org.

Established in 1994, the Cattaraugus Region Community Foundation is growing good by connecting donors to the causes they care about most in the region. Grants from the foundation support many areas, including education, scholarships, health care, the arts, community development, human service, and youth development. To learn more, call (716) 301-CRCF (2723), email foundation@cattfoundation.org, or visit online at www.cattfoundation.org. CRCF is also on Facebook and Twitter.