Grow Ohio Valley Gets $50K For Healthy Eating Projects in Wheeling Area

WHEELING — Sun Life Financial officials presented a $50,000 grant Wednesday to Grow Ohio Valley for its initiatives to control diabetes and encourage healthier eating among all age groups.

Grow OV is one of five grant recipients among 180 applicants from all over the country, said Mark Vergilii, group market manager of Sun Life Financial.

Samantha Amberg, Grow OV’s director of operations, said the nonprofit group applied for the grant to expand its projects for food access and nutrition education. The funds will be used for its Farmacy program, offered in collaboration with Wheeling Health Right, and its Sprout educational program, which introduces children to eating fresh fruits and vegetables.

“We’re really excited that they (Sun Life Financial) connected with our programs and that they saw the impact we have and can have,” Amberg said.

Danny Swan, co-founder and executive director of Grow OV, said the gift is the largest grant awarded to these two programs.

“This has the potential to be a flagship program with massive changes to health in the Ohio Valley,” he said.

Through the Farmacy, doctors write “prescriptions” for fresh vegetables and fruit to Health Right patients with diet-related conditions, such as high blood pressure or Type 2 diabetes.

As a result of the grant, Amberg said, “The Farmacy program will double in size next year to 100 patients.”

The Farmacy provides not only health benefits to participants, but also helps local farmers expand their operations by getting consistent orders for produce throughout the growing season, Swan said.

“It’s a holistic approach to economic development and health care at the same time,” he said. “It’s one of those mutually beneficial things.”

The Sprout program is offered at Grow OV’s mobile market stops and at area schools to encourage healthier eating and to teach children about food sources. To expand that effort, Amberg said, “This year, students from middle schools will visit our farms.”

Wheeling Mayor Glenn Elliott, a longtime supporter of Grow OV, lauded the organization’s efforts “to create a culture of health by introducing people to fresh fruits and vegetables.

“Anything we can do to get more healthy foods into people’s mouths is a good thing,” said Elliott while thanking Sun Life for the grant.

Last year, Sun Life gave a $50,000 grant to Health Right of Charleston.

“To have two in a row from West Virginia is pretty awesome,” Vergilii said. “The criteria (for the grants) are pretty stringent. It’s awesome that (Grow OV) did it.”

Sun Life’s Team Up Against Diabetes grant program awards local community organizations for efforts supporting, educating and raising awareness about diabetes and the importance of health and wellness.

“We have been supporting the fight against diabetes for five years and have given over $17 million globally,” Vergilii said.

Sun Life is an international financial services organization with global headquarters in Toronto, Canada. Its U.S. headquarters is in Wellesley Hills, Massachusetts.

The check presentation coincided with the regular Wednesday hours of operation of Grow OV’s East Wheeling farm stand on 15th Street, adjacent to the Hazel Atlas Building.

To add to the festivities, musician Annick Odom performed selections from “West Virginia, My Home,” a new project for solo double bass and voice. Wheeling chef Sarah Lydick, owner of the soon-to-open Sarah’s on Main restaurant, prepared healthy food samples for shoppers and other visitors.

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