CRH Aims to “Make Healthy Happen” with Budget-Friendly Meal

By Lura Jackson


Obesity and poverty often go hand in hand, and, accordingly, Washington County has some of the highest rates of obesity and the illnesses associated with it in the state. According to Calais Regional Hospital [CRH] Dietician Mona Van Wart, however, eating healthy can mean eating tasty food within a budget. In an effort to demonstrate how healthy food can be both delicious and cost-effective, the hospital has partnered with Bell’s IGA to offer samples and the materials needed to prepare a carefully selected recipe at no cost to customers in store on January 12th. 

“We wanted to try and get people to make healthier food choices,” Van Wart said, adding that the new year is a good time to start and maintain healthy behaviors. She’s been working on planning the initiative for the past year, following the hospital’s community needs assessment in 2016. Per the assessment, obesity was identified as the second highest priority health need, next to drug and alcohol abuse. Adult obesity and obesity for high school students is higher in Washington County than the state and national average.

“We wanted to look at diet and figure out a way to give examples and reach out to the public, keeping in mind that most of the time people’s choices aren’t limited to what’s in an entire grocery store, it’s limited to what’s within their budget,” said Dee Dee Travis, CRH Director of Community Relations. “She’s been trying to marry those two issues of finding healthy recipes and being conscious of what truly might be acceptable to most people in our area.”

At last year’s health fair, Van Wart and Travis offered a sample of sweet potato turkey chili to attendees. The response was widely positive. “Most people really loved it,” Van Wart said. While the dish that will be offered at the IGA hasn’t yet been determined, Van Wart is aiming at making it as inexpensive as possible while still offering robust flavor. As a local dietician, she has a wealth of experience working with local individuals to come up with health-conscious, budget-friendly options. “She’s very thorough,” Travis said of Van Wart. “She usually knows down to the penny what it costs per serving.”

The duo approached the IGA initially with the plan to offer free samples and all the fixings for making the selected healthy dish at home, and they received an immediate enthusiastic response. “It’s just a good idea,” said Kathy Bell of Bell’s IGA. “I think it’s good to have everybody involved in trying to make the community healthier.” Since the program was approved, the grocery store has hosted donated jars at its checkouts, and the donations have been coming in steadily. Bell said she herself has been surprised by the number of people donating, with at least one customer offering half the proceeds of their lottery winnings. “I think it shows to the hospital that the community does care… If everybody in the community can pitch in, they feel good about helping. It should be part of everybody’s life to feel like they’re making a difference.” 

If you would like to donate to Make Healthy Happen, you can do so directly by dropping money into the collection jars at the IGA or at the hospital itself. To mail a check, put “Make Healthy Happen” in the memo line and address it to: Calais Regional Hospital, C/O Dee Dee Travis, 24 Hospital Lane, Calais, Maine, 04619. The more donations received, the more bags with supplies for the meal can be offered to community members at no cost.