SNAP-Ed Inspires Healthy Eating in Southeast Michigan Pantries

This article is part of Stories of Change, a series of inspirational articles about people delivering evidence-based programs and strategies that empower communities to eat healthy and move more. It is made possible thanks to funding from Michigan Fitness Foundation.

Nearly 1.3 million Michigan residents are nutritionally insecure, which means they don’t have consistent access to the nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables needed to stay healthy. The Gleaners Community Food Bank of Southeast Michigan (Gleaners) strives to enhance nutrition security by actively sourcing a variety of fruits and vegetables which it delivers to area pantries and other charitable food programs, and providing nutrition education information to food pantry customers.

Nutrition education efforts at Gleaners are made possible in part by funding from the Michigan Fitness Foundation (MFF) Complementary Nutrition Education Program (SNAP-Ed). MFF is a state implementing agency of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services for the education component of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. SNAP-Ed is a United States Department of Agriculture educational program that teaches SNAP-eligible individuals how to live healthier lives. MFF offers grants to conduct SNAP-Ed programs throughout the state of Michigan.

Gleaners strives to build program sustainability and support volunteer capacity through its SNAP-Ed Policy, Systems and Environmental Change (PES) work. They do this in a variety of ways: providing recipes and nutrition education resources to food pantry guests, providing training and technical assistance to food pantry staff and volunteers, and guiding efforts to improve the physical space of the pantry to showcase healthy foods.

Recipes at the Shared Harvest Pantry in Howell.
This work begins with understanding the unique needs of people in the communities served by Gleaners.

At the Warren Warehouse at Woodside Bible Church, Gleaners work with the pastor and pantry staff to identify the goals and needs of their guests.

“Healthy eating is great, especially when it comes to the working poor, because access to healthy, nutritious food is difficult. Inflation and the pandemic have completely changed our reality,” says Tyler Mollenkamp, ​​pastor of close to the pantry. “I have this great desire to defend the dignity of people so that they can have access to fresh food, despite their current situation.”

Using the SNAP-Ed Voices for Food (VFF) Toolkit, Gleaners used VFF’s MyChoice Pantry scorecard to establish a baseline and as a simple and convenient evaluation tool.

“We use the dashboard to discuss hopes for the pantry and what staff and volunteers would like to change within the pantry, then assess goals for the rest of the year as well as any additional tasks short-term or long-term goals,” says Jake Williams, nutrition education manager at Gleaners. “The conversations started with the dashboard are very helpful for pantry staff and usually lead to larger conversations that help prioritize goals.”

Jack Williams.
For example, the pantry wanted to reorganize all of its upright freezers by food groups. This short-term task is something that could be accomplished relatively quickly by pantry volunteers.

“The environmental part of this PSE work is done, for example, by positioning things strategically in the pantry, creating a more lit display to display fruits and vegetables, and sharing information on ways to preserve these fruits and vegetables by freezing them or keeping them in appropriate storage areas,” says Williams. “For example, many people don’t realize that potatoes and onions shouldn’t be stored next to each other. [because onions emit a gas that makes potatoes go soft].”

The dashboard also helped the team examine how the Warren Warehouse pantry could better highlight healthier food options by placing them more prominently on the shelves to make them easier for pantry customers to select. -eat. Now they sell the fresh fruits, vegetables, and other healthy foods at eye level, along with inspirational signs, to draw attention to healthier produce from the pantry.

“By displaying fruits and vegetables front and center with easy-to-use recipes, the pantry emphasizes healthy eating. And that engages pantry guests to choose those foods,” Williams says.

Michigan Harvest of the Month™ recipe cards are also placed with the corresponding foods. The recipe cards also include links to the Michigan Harvest of the Month™ website, where visitors can find more affordable and healthier recipes to make at home.

“If they see kidney beans on the shelf and they usually don’t eat them, there’s a recipe that shows how to use them,” says Mollenkamp. “They educated me and our pantry chef. When people come downstairs, we don’t just give them a box of food and send them on their merry way. Our guests roam the pantry with one of our volunteers and select the food they actually need information and receive information to help them cook it at home.”

To go further, Gleaners provides additional resources that support healthy eating.

“Gleaners created a station where people can find nutrition education resources for healthy eating. They gave us recipes, handouts, and posters. We just created a little ‘Gleaners Corner’ for that,” explains Mollenkamp. “They kind of took us under their wing because they want to see local pantries thrive, which I love.”

By incorporating changes in the pantry, they improve the overall environment by bringing attention to healthy foods with supportive resources. This work supports and inspires healthy choices while enhancing the overall pantry experience for customers.

Making the healthy choice an easy choice

In Livingston County, the Shared Harvest Pantry has also worked with Gleaners to make changes to the pantry environment that encourage healthy food choices. For example, the prominent aisle that used to display breads and cereals now features fresh fruits and vegetables. Fresh produce is also displayed in high-visibility displays throughout the pantry. And, just last week, they were discussing dedicating the waiting room and redesigning the shelving to better connect pantry customers to additional healthy resources.

“It really encourages our customers to look at the healthier product,” says Bridget Brown, Gleaners’ Food Secure Livingston program director. “Our volunteers also help us put up flyers and signs that encourage our customers to choose healthier foods. Our volunteers know what’s available and share it with our customers while they shop. They might say, ” Hey, have you ever tried this? Here’s how you use it. Check out this recipe, it’s a healthy recipe for you.'”

Bridget Brown.
Gleaners’ SNAP-Ed Nutrition Educators also attend Livingston County Hunger Council meetings to promote Gleaners programs, provide information, and engage volunteer council members in their PHE work.

“Over the past few years, the idea that ‘we should have fresh produce available’ has turned into an expectation. Then, once we got better at offering fresh produce, people wanted it,” says Brown. “Now we are getting requests. customers… “Can you have lettuce? Can you have cucumbers?” We are here to really make a difference in the lives of these families. »

Bridget Brown and Jake Williams.
“Each pantry assessment generates different results, and the support we provide is personalized and varies from pantry to pantry,” adds Williams. “EPS work is a long and non-linear process. It takes time to build relationships and make lasting change. It takes partners willing to keep the discussion open and gather community feedback that is meaningful to the guest each pantry serves.

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