Ending Hunger in Southwestern PA

This post was written by Hannah Nelson, a Health Educator at the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank.

Today in the United States, there are an estimated 42 million people who are considered food insecure (1). Food insecurity is defined as “the state of being without reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food” (2). Food insecurity can come in many forms, such as inability to get to a grocery store due to lack of transportation, lack of income to afford food, or even one’s residential location being a food desert. This is where the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank comes into play. My task as a Nutrition Educator at the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank is to be an advocate for people experiencing food insecurity, to become a resource in the communities that I serve in, and to help carry out the food bank’s mission of ending hunger in southwestern Pennsylvania.

During my time of service, I have learned so much about the issue of food insecurity in America. I learned how many health problems truly stem from the lack of proper access to food and nutrition, which impacts one’s ability to learn in school. In my service position, I teach kids nutrition classes and adult cooking classes to increase knowledge of both proper nutritional habits and how to cook with the food that you might have access to that day or week.

In my adult cooking classes, I do a cooking demo using ingredients that I am able to find through the programs the food bank provides, such as the “shop-thru.” “Shop-thru” is a place where our communities partners have donated food and we in-turn distribute those items back out into the community by allowing pantries to select the items.  Many of those accessing community pantries could be experiencing food insecurity of some kind and this is where I come in with my adult cooking demonstrations. Because I am using items found in the shop-thru, the chances of someone having the same items that I am cooking with are greater. Then the adults and seniors try the recipe. This encourages those that are receiving food items to try them in a new way or even shows an example of how the food item can be prepared. Oftentimes, the feedback is extremely positive and most end up taking the recipe card.

With my kids class, I go into after-school programs and focus on teaching “MyPlate.” This is the USDA government recommendation for how we should be balancing our diets. Every week, I focus on an individual part of the MyPlate and we have a lesson to go along with the curriculum. For fruit, I will usually do a fruit pizza consisting of whole wheat bread (crust), yogurt (sauce), and various fruits as toppings. This allows the kids to try new and familiar fruits and gives them the opportunity to try the fruits in a new way. Being able to go into the after school programs consistently allows me to make a connection with the kids and community that I am serving in. Witnessing the positive reaction when a child tries a new fruit is one of the most rewarding parts of my service here with the food bank.

1. Feeding America
2. Merriam Webster