Rotary First Harvest | Community Educator program moves people of the Palouse out of food insecurity through education.
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Community Educator program moves people of the Palouse out of food insecurity through education.

24 Apr 2019, by firstharvest_in8rne in AmeriCorps VISTA, Community Action Center, Harvest Against Hunger, Palouse Tables Project, Washington Site

Harvest Against Hunger Capacity Awareness VISTA Robyn Glessner serves at the Community Action Center in Pullman, which has been an endless proponent and advocate for ending hunger through sustainable food production and community collaboration throughout the Palouse for 30 years. One of their mottos is, “solving local needs with local solutions”, which perfectly frames my desire to work in an area that provides relief with sustainable solutions at its center. The office also provides energy assistance, housing, and weatherization services, as well as a food pantry, community garden, and computers for WorkSource applicants. In tandem with the desire to connect local food insecure communities with the food producers in the region, the CAC and the first-year VISTA created the Palouse Tables Project. Within the work of this project, the regional community had expressed a desire for educational opportunities open to the public focused on self-sufficiency, in the form of preparing and preserving their own foods and gardening. Along these lines, the Palouse Tables Project will continue by providing opportunities for education courses and materials by adapting curriculum and coursework and then training local volunteers to teach these skills to the public.

The Community Food program at the Community Action Center in Pullman has put AmeriCorps VISTA Robyn Glessner in the lead of the Community Educator program. The site VISTA aims to advance the program’s mission and progress in bringing vulnerable populations of Pullman out of food insecurity. This new program has been created as a continuation of the first year VISTAs work done in quantifying data from across the Palouse. This data was collected during site visits and events held at food pantries and community centers across the region, in order to find ways that citizens of the region have expressed the Community Food program could enrich their lives.

The mission of this new Community Educator program is to engage volunteers from the Palouse region and from organizations that also help serve the community. The program will utilize these volunteers to serve alongside staff and the AmeriCorps VISTA member in teaching skills to fellow community members who have expressed knowing would enrich their ability to become more self-sufficient. From the launch of the program in February to April, eight educators have been trained to lead cooking and gardening demos with ten demos in total having been taught. These educators plan to support the CAC by producing a framework for teaching the skills they have demonstrated so that these skills and demo materials can be reutilized and held at a variety of locations and events across the Palouse. Volunteers have expressed a sense of pride in serving this community and being able to share their invaluable knowledge. The Community Educator program aims to teach at least 25 demos, teach to 100 food insecure people, and create 15 demo kits to be reutilized by community members to continue to teach invaluable self-sufficiency skills across the Palouse.

The Community Educator program has been successful in bridging the gap between produce rescue and self-sufficiency skills with the cooking classes at the host site and by using ingredients from the Food Pantry along with rescued produce to create nutritious and delicious recipes. This is one key component of the program in helping clients of the Food Bank come up with delicious ways to prepare the food they receive at the Food Bank. It also provides a challenge to the AmeriCorps VISTA and Community Educators in collaborating and using their experience to think of new ways for clients to use commodity items and other foods that get donated often in an interesting and healthy way.

The program also informs participants about proper cooking techniques, useful cooking methods, and highlights skills that can be used in other areas of cooking and food preservation. For example, the first demonstration that took place in February taught participants how to make their own vegetable stock by using vegetable scraps that are left over when prepping vegetables for a meal, such as onion, carrot, and celery ends. This method helps to reduce the amount of waste that occurs when cooking from scratch. The second demo in February highlighted ways to use dry beans from the food pantry for different dishes like bean dip and baked beans.

The site VISTA member alongside new Community Educators look forward to starting a gardening program at the community garden in Pullman and to use this space to teach clients and community members how to grow their own food. Response from the community has been very positive and it seems that support from the programming is growing more and more each time a demo is taught. This capacity building that has been displayed in a short amount of time speaks to the effectiveness but also the need for the AmeriCorps program and bringing people out of poverty, one project at a time.

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