Volunteers with the Community for Healthy Food Hub (257791)
Credit: Contributed

With fast-food restaurants and food carts at every turn, fulfilling the guilty pleasures of Harlem’s residents, the Community for Healthy Food Hub is doing its duty to prolong the life of its community by providing fresh produce and nutrition education services at their supermarket-style pantry.

Founded by the West Harlem Group Assistance in 2014, the award-winning hub has become a positive fixture for West Harlem and neighboring communities by helping clients gain and maintain a healthy eating lifestyle through fresh produce distribution and nutrition education.

“We never turn people away,” said Antaeus Turns-Ashcraft, the organization’s healthy food advocate. “We always give them a produce bag, a follow-up day to receive full pantry and a ‘Neighborhood Guide to Food and Assistance’ booklet, so they are knowledgeable about other food resources in the community.”

The pantry, which services more than 3000 clients monthly has also become a learning center for residents by providing nutrition education workshops, cooking demonstrations on unfamiliar foods to the community and educating them on the effects of eating processed foods or consuming too much white sugar.

“We try to show them alternative ways they can enjoy flavorful foods but, it can still be healthy at the same time,” said Turns-Ashcraft.

In partnerships with organizations such as Harlem Grown, City Meals on Wheels and Food Bank of New York City, the hub is actively able to stay on top of providing for a growing number of clients through food and financial donations.

One of the major benefits of the hub is that it serves as a gateway to other resources clients might need, whether it be help with legal rights, housing, immigration or any other financial benefits that clients might have trouble receiving.

“When someone’s going through financial hardship, you really have to be a little more accommodating,” said Turns-Ashcraft of the experiences clients might face when trying to receive government assistance from other offices. “They’re already in a stressful situation so, I’m glad that we’re now HRA certified so that we can do those on-site SNAP enrollments so people can get access to the food they need.”

The impact the hub has had on the community is evident, especially for 56-year-old Paul Johnson, who was advised by his doctor to change his diet after being diagnosed with congestive heart failure.

“I changed my diet,” said Johnson, who eats healthier food choices such as protein shakes, yogurt, fruit and salad. “Trying to buy that type of stuff in the supermarket is very expensive. The stuff I get from them is very helpful. You get a lot of vegetables, and a lot of protein.”

Turns-Ashcraft also recalled a story of a mother coming in to get produce from the pantry and leaving with a new coat for her daughter. That particular day New York Cares, a partner of the hub donated almost 200 coats to the hub. The young girl who had been sharing a coat with her older brother was able to receive a brand-new one of her own.

Turns-Ashcraft stated that the joy of the mother and daughter and the many thank you notes they receive is the real reward for the hub.

“It’s refreshing when clients come in and leave so happy,” she said. “To see this mother so happy because she got food and a coat—it’s mind-boggling to think she had to choose between buying food and her daughter a new coat. No one should have to go through that.”

The hub, located at 625 Lenox Ave., is open to the general public on Wednesdays and seniors on Thursdays. For more information on the hub and the services provided, visit whgainc.org.