Valley United Way (VUW) has been strategically working behind the scenes to design a grant process that responds to emerging community needs while continuing to fund needed services, the organization announced.

This year, VUW welcomed applicants to be part of the process, and organization President and COO Sharon Gibson Ellis said she is excited to announce the first recipient of their new grant process — St, Vincent De Paul, Thrift Shop and Food Bank of Derby and Massaro Community Farm of Woodbridge.

The first “Request for Proposal” was issued in April with a focus on “health and well-being” and required a collaborative approach, said Ellis.

“We couldn’t be more excited about our first grantees and their grassroots proposal,” said Ellis. “We feel like this new project has the potential to be modeled in other food pantries and can be a great asset to all residents who might struggle with cooking healthy.”

St. Vincent De Paul and Massaro Community Farm are eager to champion healthy eating, and their focus will be on helping the community get vegetables into their homes and diets. With funds granted them from the VUW, Ellis said they will be working collaboratively to move vegetables from the farm into the hands of clients that use the St Vincent De Paul Food Bank. The vegetables, however, come with an added perk.

Each week, Ellis said clients of the food bank will have the opportunity to learn a vegetarian recipe through small group cooking demos. The recipes will be selected based on what is seasonally available from the farm, what is routinely stocked in the pantry, and ease of preparation. Everyone that attends the education sessions will go home with the recipe, and all the ingredients they need to duplicate the recipe at home.

Working in partnership with Griffin Hospital, parish nurses will be on hand throughout the program to perform basic health screenings and afford clients the opportunity to receive consultation on how they can better improve their diet and overall health.

Surveys will be performed throughout the program to gauge the impact of providing more fresh vegetables to residents relying on the food pantry for groceries. The overall goal is to increase the consumption of vegetables and increase awareness for using fresh items that are available locally.

St. Vincent de Paul has been serving residents from the lower Naugatuck Valley with its thrift shop and food pantry since 1990. Massaro Community Farm is a nonprofit organic farm growing more than 40 different kinds of vegetables and offering a wide variety of educational opportunities. Sales from its produce support the donation of thousands of pounds of produce each year. The program is expected to run through the end of the year and individuals interested in the program should contact St. Vincent de Paul at 203-734-7577 for more information.

The first demo is scheduled for July 19 at 11 a.m.