CARBONDALE, IL — Aetna Better Health of Illinois recently donated $138,000's worth of professional-grade refrigerators and freezers to 34 food pantries serving the southernmost 16 counties in Illinois, the company announced. 

The company says it donated 51 fridges and freezers in collaboration with the Southern Illinois Food Pantry Network. 

"Food insecurity leads to poor health outcomes," Aetna Better Health of Illinois CEO Kim Foltz said in a statement. "The Southern Illinois Food Pantry Network and its partners provide a critical lifeline to healthy foods for families in hard-to-reach and underserved areas. With 25 percent of residents living in areas designated as food deserts, these pantries provide much needed access to healthy foods."

Aetna says the donation enables those pantries to have more perishable, fresh foods, as opposed to shelf-stable items like canned or dried foods. The company says in the past, local food pantries have had to turn perishable donations away because they don't have the space to store them. 

Citing Southern Illinois Healthcare, Aetna says 80% of adults in Southern Illinois are not getting enough fruits and vegetables each day. More than 45,000 Southern Illinoisans rely on their local food pantries to access food. In the past, local food pantries reported having to turn perishable donations away because they do not have the capacity to store those types of foods.

The company says the pantries will be able to distribute fresh produce, dairy products and meat to kids and adults in need because of the fridge and freezer donations. 

“We are thankful for partners like the Southern Illinois Food Pantry Network and Aetna Better Health of Illinois for providing the refrigerator and freezer to our food pantry,” Casey Pollard with the Table Food Pantry in Vienna, Illinois, said in a statement. “Since the pandemic started, we have provided over 100,000 pounds of food to families in need. Continued partnerships like these help us battle food insecurity across the region.”