March is National Nutrition Month. Here at the Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina, it’s also the anniversary of when we hired our first Nutrition Education Manager: Sara Clement, RD, LDN. In March 2017 Sara joined our new Community Health and Engagement Department, and quickly set to work infusing health and nutrition into the programs we run, the collaborations we partner on, and even what we post on social media! In her first year, Sara provided healthy recipes, food samples, and cooking demonstrations to more than 2,600 people throughout our service area, but her true impact is even larger.
Demos at direct distributions
Every month, Food Bank CENC distributes nearly 5,000 CSFP food boxes for low-income seniors, featuring staples such as canned fruits, vegetables, and meat, milk, cheese, pasta, rice, beans, peanut butter, and cereal. Thanks to Sara, the seniors also receive a one-page newsletter containing a nutrition focus and a healthy recipe (such as pasta salad, below) featuring ingredients from the CSFP box! In addition, Sara attends CSFP distributions herself so she can demonstrate how to make the recipes and even provide tastings.
“Making new recipes with new foods can be a risky for a family to try,” Sara says. “If they have tried and seen how easy it can be, they are much more likely to try it at home.”
Healthier food pantries
Food Bank CENC has worked hard over the past few years to increase fresh produce to nearly 40% of the food we provide. But fruits and vegetables are only beneficial if you have the knowledge and the confidence to prepare them in a healthful way. First, Sara helps our network of Partner Agencies select healthier foods to stock up their pantries with, or serve at meal sites. Then she comes up with healthy recipes for the produce we have at the Food Bank – inspiring more people to try it – or cook it in a new healthy way. How do you cook those artichokes or eggplants? Or how can you make a sweet potato that isn’t covered in brown sugar? Sara knows! And she teaches food pantry leaders recipes and cooking tips that they pass on to the families and individuals they serve.
“They have somebody on the premises to show us how to cook things, how to use recipes, to educate us, and show us how to execute that,” says Mary Montford, Director of the N.C.A. Philip Randolph Institute. “It’s phenomenal.”
Cooking up community collaboration
Whether Sara’s cooking in our Allscripts Teaching Kitchen or taking the lessons on the road with one of our Mobile Kitchens, her deep understanding of the connection between food and wellness is making our communities healthier and our partnerships stronger. Our Greenville Branch has built a partnership with Vidant Health, supplying food and volunteer power to stock emergency food boxes for food-insecure HIV clinic patients. This spring, the food boxes are transitioning into a full food pantry serving all outpatients and discharged inpatients. But that’s not the only way we’re providing the Greenville community with the nourishment needed to heal and be well.
Elsewhere on Vidant Health’s campus, Sara was invited to teach four monthly cooking demos as part of East Carolina University Department of Family Medicine’s free weight management classes. She’s been a big hit! The cooking demos are successful because they’re delicious, and because at the end of class students receive a take-home bag with all the ingredients needed to prepare the easy, healthy meal they just learned.
One student, Benelle, gets to class early and sits in the front row. She likes to see what ingredients will be used this month and report back about last month’s recipe, which happened to be pineapple fried rice.
“Everybody in here said they’ve made it. One gentlemen said he made it for 10 people. I’ve made it twice,” Benelle says. “It’ wonderful. We don’t have to go shopping. We have the groceries, everything right there. I love the class.”
“Some of the ingredients I needed (for healthier recipes), I couldn’t afford,” Annie, another student in the class, told ECU. “I’m retired. And at my age, I’m almost 80, that makes a difference.”
“We only provide healthy recipes here. They don’t take long, they’re heart healthy, they’re diabetic friendly, they’re nutritional for you and they’re using low-budget ingredients,” Sara told ECU. “It’s either recipes that they’ve never heard of, or that might be one of their favorites that we just put a healthier twist on it.”
Right now, you can make a difference for twice as families impacted by Sara’s work! Friends of Food Bank CENC will match every gift — up to $66,000 — until April 30. Make your gift today!