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capacity building Tag

Community Educator program moves people of the Palouse out of food insecurity through education.

24.04.2019 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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The Community Educator Program Supports Self-Sufficiency for the Palouse Community

21.03.2019 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 moto’s 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.

Pappy’s Pantry

Week after week, month after month, “Pappy’s Pantry” dry pinto beans, stays on the shelf of the commodities section at the Community Action Center. The Food Pantry receives around one hundred clients each week, Pappy’s Beans are always out but they aren’t always well received. One of the faithful volunteers at the Community Action Center, Andrew Vaughan, sees this occurrence each week and wanted to do something to affect how people receive these less than exciting dried beans, in order to move the product and highlight this healthier option. We all know the choice is clear among clients of a food pantry when they are given the option between dried beans and “Chef Boyardee”.

Andrew, “Andy” among friends at the CAC, jumped on the opportunity to teach a bean demo as part of the Community Educator program lead by AmeriCorps VISTA, Robyn Glessner. So, on a cold and snowy day in February, Andy and Robyn set up crock pots and spice blends to start cooking the soaked “Pappy’s” pinto beans. The community kitchen was set up to greet participants the following day at 11am when the Food Pantry opened up for clients. Samples were made, recipes printed, and multiple handouts were provided to inform curious community members about the different ways beans can be soaked, cooked, mashed, refried, stewed with meat, or tied up into a sock to fashion a microwaveable heating pad! As time passed that day, a few participants trickled through the community kitchen, curious to see where the source of the cumin and onion infusion that was wafting throughout the building had originated. Unfortunately, the weather got the best of the turnout of people for both the food pantry that day and secondly, the bean demo.

There was both discouragement but also hope left over at the end of the day that Wednesday in February. Both Robyn and Andy were able to identify areas that the program could improve on for the next demo, but there were some unexpected “wins”. Volunteers and staff had come through to support the two during that day and there was unexpected and beneficial conversation being had about the community and their relationship to food. Our consensus came down to the fact that though the few community members that came through that day may have been less than anticipated, it still proved that the purpose and goals were being met. Even if a Community Educator is there to teach only one person about cooking nutritious food for themselves, that knowledge is still granted the power to live on and can be passed through that one person to another person, and so on. This is the definition of capacity building, and it is also important for the educators to know that being available to our community as educators is not as much about informing and collecting “numbers” of participants as it is about simply being available to those who do show up to learn, whenever and wherever that may be.

And now, on to the next educator challenge… lima beans.

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The Long Haul: Produce Drops and Hurricane Relief

09.11.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Gleaning, Harvest Against Hunger, National Site, Volunteering

Harvest Against Hunger AmeriCorps VISTA Elise Tillema serves at the Society of Saint Andrew (SoSA), a non-profit connecting farmers, agencies, and volunteers to glean produce in central Florida. In 2017 alone, SoSA saved 28,561,789 pounds of produce (86 million servings) with 37,482 volunteers at 5,960 events. Formed in 1979, SoSA serves the states of Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Arkansas, North & South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia with additional gleanings in the Midwest. In 1995, the Florida Gleaning Project was launched to coordinate gleans and saves over 2 million pounds of produce each year statewide.

Often times during a VISTA’s term, the capacity-building tasks can often seem like the boring ones. Crunching numbers, raising funds, logistics, and so on are critical to maintaining and creating programs but also far from entertaining. For SoSA Florida, some of this drudgery comes from produce drops.

A ‘drop’ is when a grower donates produce by the truck or pallet load, rather than a row in a field. Typically this product has already been harvested, and the task at hand is to facilitate transportation and placement. Bleh. However, powering through these doldrums can earn the highest reward.

HAH VISTA Elise Tillema and her host site, the Society of Saint Andrew, have coordinated several of these drops, each providing tons of produce and rewards. The Neena Eisenberg Potato Drop, for example, brought in over 10 thousand pounds of produce but also honored the memory of an ardent supporter and volunteer. In the wake of devastating hurricanes, traditional gleaning became obsolete. In response, SoSA Florida helped move 120 thousand pounds of produce to communities impacted by Florence. Forty-four thousand pounds of bottled water made it to the Panhandle in the wake of Michael, with another drop on the radar.  It is in times of crisis and joy that one must dig in her heels in and push. Working through seemingly humdrum tasks allowed Elise and her site to not only innovate, but expand their services for those who need it most.

 

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Produce Sorting 101

13.04.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Food Bank, Harvest Against Hunger, National Site

Harvest Against Hunger VISTA, Brianna Nash, serves at Community Food Share, a member food bank of the national hunger-relief organization, Feeding America. Serving the Boulder and Broomfield Counties on Colorado’s Front Range, Community Food Share distributed 10 million pounds of food in 2017, enough for 22,500 meals a day. Along with 43 partner agencies by which food is distributed, Community Food Share has an onsite pantry floor, mobile pantry truck, and Elder Share program. 75% of the food distributed by the food bank is fresh produce, dairy, and other high-protein items. Brianna serves as the produce and gleaning volunteer coordinator, engaging volunteers in growing and harvesting local produce for the food bank.

 

There are a couple things that make Community Food Share different than some of the other sites in the Harvest Against Hunger cohort. While Community Food Share is part of the Feeding America network, the organization also resides in a state where the growing season is quite short. Fresh fruits and veggies can only grow outdoors in Colorado from late-May through mid-September. This reality may be inescapable, but Community Food Share strives to provide fresh produce all year round to all that utilize the food bank. The produce comes from all over the country every week – mangoes from Mexico, oranges from Texas, apples from Washington, and potatoes from Southern Colorado.

Bulk 2,000lb pallets of carrots. Volunteers usually sort these and put into cardboard boxes.

 

Large pallet of mangoes. One of five that came in a shipment.

 

With a well-established volunteer network, Community Food Share sees thousands of volunteers come through the doors every year. Almost every day, volunteers are engaged in produce sorting activities. Usually, volunteers are sorting large 1,500+ pound totes and pallets of produce into smaller boxes or into red mesh bags for easy takeaway. Sometimes the produce is in perfect shape, sometimes it isn’t. The trickiest part of our operation here is figuring out how to empower volunteers to make the correct decisions in “isolating” or composting produce. A carrot might have three legs, but that doesn’t mean it’s inedible!

 

Volunteers working on bagging apples from large tote in produce sorting area.

 

The AmeriCorps VISTA is currently working on signage and a standard operating procedure for volunteer produce sorting. This process has been interesting and has delved into the realms of food safety, food bank warehouse protocol, and produce research. The Feeding America network has many standards by which sorting occurs; it’s been up to Brianna to translate that information into volunteer-accessible instruction.

A few examples are:

  • A slightly bruised apple is not a bad apple
  • Onions skins sometimes have strange discoloration and its ok to peel a few layers back to check if it’s ok
  • Soft produce (like oranges and tomatoes) is much more likely to harvest mold internally than hard produce (like onions and potatoes)
  • Weird shapes are almost always ok!

 

Orange bagging by volunteer in warehouse.

With her supervisor, Brianna decided on creating large visuals that exemplify the above bullet points. Large magnetic signs will be made for the produce sorting area at Community Food Share. These signs will be attached to the wall above the sorting tables and will include visual “bad” and “good” photos of apples, citrus, carrots, potatoes, and onions. Since they will be magnetic, staff will also be able to move around the warehouse, if volunteers are sorting in another area. Additionally, the VISTA will create a Community Food Share produce sorting SOP by the end of her term. This will allow staff members to reference sorting protocol and provide that information to volunteers in an accurate manner.

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