ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — The New York State Office of Mental Health (OMH) has been awarded a $200,000 grant to help people with mental illness gain access to fresh produce. The grant will be used to expand the FreshConnect Checks Program and bring mobile farmers markets to housing sites for residents with mental illness.

OMH will also develop a curriculum for residents focused on purchasing, preparing, and consuming healthy foods. The grant was received from the New York State Health Foundation.

“People with mental illness often have significantly shorter lifespans than the general population, in large part because of chronic diseases related to an unhealthy diet.  This new pilot program will allow us to not only teach people with mental illness about purchasing and preparing fresh healthy foods, it will also increase their access to farm-fresh foods,” said OMH Commissioner Dr. Ann Sullivan.

In New York, 45,000 people with serious mental illness live in congregate homes. OMH said these individuals often face challenges in accessing and using fresh, healthy foods.

The partners for the first phase of this pilot program will be the Buffalo Federation of Neighborhood Centers (BFNC) and Rehabilitation Support Services (RSS) in the Capital District. BFNC and RSS operate community residences and supportive housing programs.

OMH will work to develop workshops including healthy meal planning, shopping for fresh produce at the mobile market, making healthy snack choices, and using healthier preparation techniques.

OMH said it plans to expand the pilot program to additional OMH-licensed housing sites in the future.