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Program improves nutrition for low-income families|
By Karen Wing
| This past spring, if you visited the food bank in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., you might have found kids singing about Bobby Banana, the Salad Sisters and the Prince of the Pyramid. In the audience, you would have seen a crowd of proud parents, many of them food stamp recipients. This type of program, along with food demonstrations, newsletters, shopping tips and adult nutrition education, is now a part of Pennsylvanias Food Stamp Nutrition Education Program (FSNEP) thanks in part to the Penn State Department of Food Science.|
Funding for FSNEP is split approximately 50/50 between the federal government and the state. The Department of Food Science manages the programs activities within Pennsylvania.
The Pennsylvania Food Stamp Nutrition Education Program addresses two of our societys most critical needs hunger and inadequate nutrition, said Dr. Theodore R. Alter, associate vice president for outreach, director of Cooperative Extension and associate dean, College of Agricultural Sciences. This initiative is a community-based partnership among local organizations, government and Penn State Cooperative Extension dedicated to attacking these issues and making a positive, substantive impact in the program participants lives.
According to Dr. Katherine Cason, associate professor of food science and coordinator for the statewide internal project for Penn State Cooperative Extension, the goals of this program are to increase food security and reduce hunger, in partnership with cooperating organizations, by providing children and low-income people access to food, a healthful diet and nutrition education in a manner that supports American agriculture and inspires public confidence.
Last year alone, these activities reached hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians over the course of the year, with more than 900,000 contacts between educators and participants in 13 counties. Local agencies designed and implemented the projects, which were held in diverse settings, from school cafeterias to city recreation centers to farmers market stands.
Cason said that there has been a significant expansion of nutrition education plans for low-income Pennsylvanians in the last few years. In 1999, when the Food Stamp Nutrition Education Program in Pennsylvania was launched, about $1.7 million was spent on programs in five counties. For fiscal year 2001, $7.5 million in planned expenditures are budgeted for 24 of Pennsylvanias 67 counties. In 2002, there are proposals to expand the program into 30 counties, with expenditures exceeding $13 million.
Our vision for the future of the Food Stamp Nutrition Education Program is to be able to expand the program to individuals and families in counties where we are not yet offering the program, said Dr. Marilyn Corbin, state program leader for children, youth and families and assistant director of Penn State Cooperative Extension.
Currently, we deliver the education program in three different ways, Cason said. First, we utilize the model proven to be successful by Cooperative Extensions 32-year-old Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program. In this approach, we hire paraprofessionals to train people in the communities where they live. Participants learn about nutrition, food safety and food preparation, as well as how to shop wisely. Secondly, we reach a lot of people through food demonstrations held at food banks and food pantries on distribution day. These demos use the foods that are being handed out and provide recipes and tips for making the most of the available supplies. Finally, we distribute a newsletter filled with shopping tips and recipes in food bags or boxes in the emergency food system.
Corbin added, Through interactive educational activities, we strive to enhance motivation and increase participants retention of information. Hands-on learning experiences provide an opportunity for participants to increase their confidence in their newly acquired food preparation skills and result in well-balanced nutritious meals.
We have been doing pre- and post-testing to see if people actually adopt the new behaviors, Cason said. Typically, we find that people do change their behavior and consume more nutrient dense food.
In addition to the direct benefits of this program to the recipients, Penn States management of the Food Stamp Nutrition Education Program has exemplified the core values of the College of Agricultural Sciences and its Cooperative Extension System lifelong learning and access to information and knowledge for all of Pennsylvanias residents.
Because Penn State Cooperative Extension is dedicated to improving the quality of life of individuals, families and communities, both the Food Stamp Nutrition Education Program and the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program allow Cooperative Extension to expand and provide educational programming to a greater number of people in need of nutrition information, Corbin said. The programs allow agents to use their knowledge and talents to support families as they strive to extend their food dollar and manage their household food purchases more effectively.
According to Cason, the Food Stamp Nutrition Education Network is the only statewide group that brings together agencies and organizations that serve the food and nutrition education needs of low-income audiences. This interagency collaboration and communication provides extraordinary opportunities to reach participants with nutrition and healthy lifestyle messages and to repeatedly reinforce those messages so that healthy behaviors are the ultimate result.
Because of FSNEP, the Penn State Department of Food Science is known throughout the state for bringing new federal resources to the state. No other agency was willing or able to make this commitment to the improved nutrition of the neediest citizens of the Commonwealth, Corbin noted.
And for the kids in Wilkes-Barre and other communities like it, that kind of leadership has made a difference thats worth singing about.