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By Theresa O'Neill

In war-torn regions of the world, food, shelter and water are highly sought-after commodities. International groups, including the United Nations and partnering nongovernmental organizations, commonly provide assistance by funding food aid, which is then distributed on the ground by humanitarian organizations. One such product, Super Cereal Plus, is a soy- and corn-based nutritional formula designed to alleviate malnutrition in young children. Super Cereal Plus was developed by Tufts University in partnership with U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Nonprofit agency and dry food manufacturer Transylvania Vocational Services, Inc. TVS, based in Brevard, North Carolina, employs people with disabilities. TVS first began working with commercial partner Challenge Dairy Products, Inc. on the nutritional blend in 2010, and began co-producing it in 2014 for Tufts University-sponsored feeding trials in Burkina Faso and Sierra Leone. Following the successful conclusion of these trials, Super Cereal Plus became an item that could be purchased by the USDA USAID for donation or sale to international aid groups.

TVS enlisted SourceAmerica, which administers the federal AbilityOne Program, to determine how Super Cereal Plus could support the expansion of employment opportunities for people with disabilities. Thanks to SourceAmerica's longstanding relationship with the USDA and its commitment to the AbilityOne Program, the USDA opened competition for Super Cereal's production. TVS was ultimately selected by the USDA as one of two Super Cereal Plus producers. TVS's Safe Quality Food certification, the global food safety standard for all sectors of the food industry, was a critical factor in its selection. TVS also had received numerous awards over the years for quality performance, including the USDA's prestigious AbilityOne Contractor of the Year award in 2005, 2007 and 2010. Super Cereal Plus was added to the federal procurement list in October 2015.

"It shows a deep commitment by the USDA to work with SourceAmerica, TVS, and support the disability community by creating employment opportunities for people with disabilities," said Rose Tallant, SourceAmerica senior business development manager.

TVS's AbilityOne contract employs approximately 40 people with disabilities who to date have helped produce 5,200 metric tons of Super Cereal Plus.

"It's truly an honor for TVS and its employees to be working and helping to feed hungry children across the world," said Becky Alderman, TVS chief operating officer.

Super Cereal Plus is distributed by the World Food Programme, the largest international humanitarian agency fighting hunger. On average, WFP provides more than 80 million people in 75 countries with food assistance annually.

AbilityOne employee Alicia O'Shields, a blending technician for TVS, appreciates the chance to be part of the effort.

"I really like what this project stands for," she said. "It makes me feel good to make such a big difference in their lives."