Although the coronavirus pandemic has affected Otsego County residents, about 100 are still getting fresh fruits and vegetables delivered to them, thanks to Pathfinder Produce, a business started by Pathfinder Village in Edmeston.
“We’re still on the road,” said Paul Landers, the president and chief executive officer of the school and residential village for people with Down syndrome and other developmental challenges. “Our residents are staying safe and staying in the village, but our staff has taken over the responsibility of driving the truck and making deliveries to our customers, obviously while taking all the care necessary during this time.”
Pathfinder, which was founded 40 years ago, started a farmers market six years ago as a way to employ and give a mission to its adult residents.
It was a great success, Landers said, but it also revealed areas near the village that were “food deserts” where food insecurity and a lack of healthy food options existed. Those food deserts increased last year when a Great American supermarket in nearby West Winfield closed.
“So we wanted to do something to help out,” Landers said.
“It was a real win-win situation,” he said. “We think our brick-and-mortar market has replaced some of the small markets that have shut down, such as the ones in New Berlin and West Winfield.”
Still, the market revealed other issues in the community, including low-income families and elder and other residents who couldn’t afford produce or didn’t have transportation to the Pathfinder store. The success of the market led to another plan to increase Pathfinder’s community outreach, Landers said.
A grant from Leatherstocking Collaborative Health Partners allowed Pathfinder to buy a food truck last year, Landers said, and the program started making produce deliveries in the northwestern part of Otsego County in May 2019. A grant received this year from the Cabrini Foundation will ultimately allow the program to expand to neighboring counties, he said, including areas in Herkimer, Chenango and Madison counties that are close to Edmeston.
Landers said the program employs five adult Pathfinder residents, and although they are being kept safe from the pandemic right now, they are still being paid. They are also sending personal messages to their customers, which are typed by staff members and put into delivery bags.
“I think it makes people feel good,” he said. “Our residents have the best DNA in humanity; that is our folks with Down syndrome. They are so happy and joyful and full of life. They are bringing joy to people.”
The program has also brought healthier food options to the community, outside of the village and within it, too, Landers said.
“I think now that our residents are more involved in finding recipes for healthy foods, they are also becoming more invested in healthy living,” he said.
Ultimately, the expansion of the program has been a blessing for the village and the surrounding community, Landers said, and he looks forward to when he can safely allow Pathfinder’s residents to resume their work.
“We just found the right problem at the right time and our residents really love the work,” he said. “This is a true feel-good bag we are giving out to the community.”
Go to www.pathfindervillage.org for more information.
Greg Klein, staff writer, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 607-441-7218.