1) Tell us about Wholesome Wave, What do you do?
I’m the Founder of Wholesome Wave, national nonprofit based in Bridgeport, CT. We’re all about making sure people, regardless of income, have access to affordable fruits and vegetables. We accomplish this two ways: our SNAP Doubling programs, where people can double their SNAP dollars when they buy fruits and vegetables; our Wholesome Rx, where health care providers can actually prescribe fruits and vegetables to people who are experiencing or at-risk of diet-related disease. The prescriptions can be spent on fruits and vegetables so patients can afford to follow the prescriber’s advice.
2)When did it start?
Inspired and encouraged by actor Paul Newman—my former business partner at Dressing Room Restaurant in Westport—I started Wholesome Wave in 2007 with my great friend and mentor, the late Gus Schumacher. Gus served as former U.S. Undersecretary of Agriculture and was an incredible force in the food equity space.
3) What is your mission?
Wholesome Wave empowers people who are struggling with hunger to make better food choices by increasing affordable access to healthy produce.
4) Who do you serve?
We serve people throughout the country who can’t afford fruits & vegetables. This includes people who rely on SNAP and people who might not qualify for federal benefits, but still have difficulty putting enough food on the table.
5) How did you get started with Wholesome Wave?
When my first son Chris was diagnosed with diabetes in 1995, I knew I had to change my food strategy at home. This later translated into my work at Heartbeat Restaurant at the W Hotel in Manhattan. One day during dinner service I was standing in the dining room and it clicked with me that, as much as I could make healthy food a reality for my customers, I couldn’t do the same for people who have $2.00 to spend on dinner for four people. I learned there were millions of Americans who struggle with poverty. This was the turning point for me. I had to do something about it. I started raising private funds to work towards the vision Gus and I shared to help people struggling with low income gain the power to put fruits and vegetables their family’s table.
6) What does food insecurity mean to you? For us and the families in many of the communities we work with, people define it for themselves by the numbers of meals they can get on the table. Families who struggle with food insecurity are asking themselves, “Can I get 1.5 meals on the table for myself and each of my kids or is it only one today for me and two for them? Should I skip a meal so my children can eat a little more?” Food insecurity is limited access and affordability to any food let alone the types of food that should be eaten to maintain a healthy diet.
7) Tell us, how did you/Wholesome Wave hear about Filling in the Blanks? Wholesome Wave is involved with Filling in the Blanks through a partnership with Stepping Stones Museum for Children’s Camp ELLI program. We’ll be providing 350 preschoolers and their families with vouchers to buy fruits and vegetables at their local ShopRite during the summer months.
8) Why did FITB's mission resonate with you? What motivated you to get involved with FITB?
FITB and Wholesome Wave both have similar motivations. We understand that the services available to people struggling with hunger don’t always cover everything that’s needed for a healthy lifestyle. Together we fill in the blanks to make sure kids not only get enough to eat, but get the food they need to be healthy and happy.
9) What would you like to see in the future for the communities that FITB serves?
My dream is a world where no one has to make the choice between paying their rent or putting healthy food on the table. I would love to see fruits and vegetables become affordable for everyone, regardless of income.