"We haven't opened a can in the kitchen for six months!" said Jennielynn Holmes, director of Shelter and Housing at Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Santa Rosa.
For a family shelter, this is unusual (and exciting) news. So what changed?
In July 2014, the shelter used a grant from Kaiser Permanente to hire Briana Keating, an energetic woman with a passion for helping people become healthier. Thanks to this new Health and Wellness coordinator, fresh foods and fitness have become top priorities.
"We prepare dinner for 150 residents at each of our family and adult shelters, seven-days-a-week," said Briana. "When I started this program, most of the food being prepared was from cans and packages. Now, we're preparing all the meals from scratch."
Fresh produce is ordered and donated from Andy's Produce in Sebastopol twice a month, along with donations from local farmers.
"We also use produce from our own small garden, and get some from the nearby community garden," said Briana. "And we're very excited that as of March, the shelters have a part-time professional cook!" For the past several years, shelter residents have prepared the food. Now, they're still helping, but with guidance from a trained cook.
The healthier new focus is having positive effects on staff and residents alike.
For example, one resident father-of-six took advantage of all the health options offered. Along with volunteering in the kitchen and trying out healthy recipes, his whole family received free dental cleanings and fillings, the kids loved their weekly trip to the boxing gym, and "dad" also completed the Freedom from Smoking workshop.
"I know now how dangerous second-hand smoke is for my kids," he said, celebrating his 28th birthday as "Resident of the Month," after two tobacco-free weeks.
"Our residents are joining walking groups, attending nutrition workshops, and asking for healthy food choices," added Robert Daley, a shelter staff member. "The greatest change I see is that residents are talking about health and self-care with each other, and health and wellness are becoming a part of their daily routines."
Briana couldn't be more thrilled.
"We recognize that our job is to help our residents become healthy in every way, and that supporting their overall health is as important as helping them overcome homelessness," she said. "We even hope to put together a team for the Human Race this year!"
For more information on Community Benefit grant making see communities in Northern California.