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Food for Others Tag

Building True Accessibility

27.03.2019 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Food Bank, Food for Others, Harvest Against Hunger, National Site, Virginia

Maheyaar Barron is the Gleaning and Produce Recovery Coordinator at Food for Others, a food bank and pantry located in Fairfax, Virginia. The organization services the northern region of the state through a multitude of programs such as emergency food aid, weekend meals for elementary school children, neighborhood site deliveries, and community partner support. The gleaning program, which began in 2017 in partnership with Harvest Against Hunger, connects local growers to families in need, bringing in fresh produce directly from farms, farmers markets, and community gardens.

As the Food for Others gleaning program enters its third year, summer fruits and vegetables have become commonplace at all levels of distribution. The 2018 season brought in over 43,000 pounds of produce, giving clients fresh and nutritious options to take home to their families. The donations are distributed through the choice section, where referrals can shop for their food, as well as through neighborhood site distribution. Using these methods, Food for Others is working to increase food equity within its service region.

 As the supply side of the equation is slowly improved, demand is still very complicated. Client preferences do not always align with available items, and some donations stay on the shelf, untouched. These inclinations are due to a variety of factors: Need for culturally appropriate food, lack of cooking skills or time to cook, nutrition education, the unfamiliarity of the produce, etc.

Efforts to provide more culturally relevant produce through the gleaning program are currently underway– the emphasis on community gardens. Belvedere Elementary School, which boasts multiple green spaces, has been looking for opportunities to further educate its students on social service. Using a produce preference survey conducted by the first VISTA, Amy Reagan, Belvedere will soon be growing high demand produce for the food bank. Local fifth grade girl scouts are taking similar measures by looking to cultivate a plot at their own school. As more and more gardens sign up to be a part of the Grow a Row program, Food for Others will be able to more optimally target its clients’ needs and decrease the amount of food left on the shelf.

To mitigate other factors preventing equal access to fresh produce, Food for Others is offering two eight week cooking courses in partnership with both a nearby low-income housing unit and the Virginia Extension office. The classes will be held at the housing unit, and will promote nutritious foods, cooking skills, food budgeting, and safe food handling. Through its connection with a local CSA, Waterpenny Farm, Food for Others will provide each attendee with a share of fresh produce. Recipes will center around the items in each weekly basket, with the intention of increasing participants’ knowledge of the different fruits and vegetables and how to prepare them. Upon completion of the course Virginia Extension will provide each member with an eighteen piece set of cooking pots, removing a high cost up-front barrier.

Access to healthy produce has many layers. Food for Others is attempting to balance meeting clients’ preferences with recognizing and combatting the systemic way in which marginalized communities have been primed to reject healthy options. This will require both time and a multifaceted approach.

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Welcome, Maheyaar!

13.03.2019 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Harvest Against Hunger, National Site, Virginia

Maheyaar Barron is a recent graduate from Middlebury College that majored in Environmental Economics. His work experience following graduation includes food security research, hands-on food business experience, and translation, all in the greater DMV area. His work in this region continues as he begins his one year term with Food for Others in Fairfax, Virginia. Maheyaar will be serving as their third Harvest Against Hunger AmeriCorps VISTA, and he is excited to be promoting food equity within Northern Virginia.

Food for Others is both a food bank and pantry that has been servicing Northern Virginia since 1995. The organization runs a variety of programs from weekend lunches for in-need elementary school kids to emergency food aid under the USDA. In order to increase their communities access to fresh and healthy produce, Food for Other paired up with Harvest Against Hunger in 2018 to start its Gleaning Program, diverting thousands of pounds of potentially wasted produce from both farms and farmers markets. Now in its third year, the program is partnering with 9 farms and 23 farmers markets!

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CSAs Provide Additional Sources of Fresh Produce

29.06.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Food Bank, Harvest Against Hunger, National Site

Americorps VISTA Grace Plihal serves with Food for Others in Fairfax, VA, 30 minutes outside of the nation’s capital. Food for Others is a hybrid food bank and food pantry, both storing and distributing millions of pounds of food every year. In 2017, a VISTA position in conjunction with Harvest Against Hunger (HAH) was created with the purpose of gleaning fresh produce from the area. Last year, the HAH VISTA brought in an additional 23,000 pounds of food. Food for Others believes that with the help of the community, we can eliminate hunger in the Fairfax area.

 

A few years ago, Food for Others implemented a new choice program for recipients of emergency food. Rather than giving clients a pre-packed box, they now allow them to “shop” for foods of their choice through a sectioned-off area of the warehouse. Depending on the family size, clients get to pick a predetermined number of items based off of groups of the food pyramid. Since the previous VISTA began, the produce section has been overflowing with an abundance of fresh and healthy treats. Last week, huge bundles of leafy chard lined the top shelf, while delicacies like fennel and garlic scapes sat below. This week, summer squash, Pattypan, and green and yellow zucchini were a popular favorite. The best part? Almost all of it came from a local farm.

 

Fresh summer squash, zucchini, and pattypan

 

This summer, Food for Others began an official partnership with Waterpenny Farm in Sperryville, Virginia. Waterpenny will be providing 19 weeks of CSA shares to clients. This initiative began in mid-June and will continue through the fall. A CSA or community shared agriculture, is a way for members of the community to support local farms by pledging money for a share of the farm, and receiving fresh produce in return. Through an online campaign, Food for Others and Waterpenny Farm raised $5,823– enough for 15 shares for clients. The new initiative has not been without its struggles. Periodically, clients will see items on the produce shelf that may be unfamiliar to them, or that they may not know how to cook. Because of this, they might choose to skip the produce section entirely.

 

Innovative ways to get produce off the shelf

 

This is where the food demonstrations come in. A few weeks ago, VISTA Grace Plihal cooked kale chips and had the clients sample them. By the end of the day, all the locally grown kale had flown off the shelf. Zucchini bread is up next week, and it promises to be a hit with kids. Additionally, trained “shopper” volunteers will give clients suggestions on new and innovative ways to use the produce, such as bacon-wrapped garlic scapes and stuffed pattypan squash. Through the partnership with Waterpenny, Food For Others hopes that clients will choose to experiment with local fruits and vegetables they may have never seen before. And maybe someday down the line, they’ll be moved to plant their own garden, full of kale, chard, and garlic scapes.

 

Sauteed chard from a share

 

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Earth Day Garden Cleanup

26.04.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Harvest Against Hunger, National Site, Volunteering

Americorps VISTA Grace Plihal serves with Food for Others in Fairfax, VA, 30 minutes outside of the nation’s capital. Food for Others is a hybrid food bank and food pantry, both storing and distributing millions of pounds of food every year. In 2017, a VISTA position in conjunction with Harvest Against Hunger (HAH) was created with the purpose of gleaning fresh produce from the area. Last year, the HAH VISTA brought in an additional 23,000 pounds of food. Food for Others believes that with the help of the community, we can eliminate hunger in the Fairfax area.

A recent study by researchers at the University of Florida aimed to discover if there was any correlation between gardening as a child and eating habits as an adult. They surveyed 1,351 college students, asking them questions about their fruit and vegetable intake and whether they had participated in any sort of gardening early on in their lives. Their findings: people who gardened as children ate, on average, 15 percent more fruits and veggies than those who had not.

 

Reading about this study planted a seed in Americorps VISTA Grace Plihal’s head. Food for Others provides weekend packaged meals to Fairfax County elementary school students who are receiving free or reduced lunch during the week. One of these schools has a garden that was not being taken care of or utilized to its full potential. After a few weeks of planning and coordination, Grace and 5th-grade teacher Katie held the elementary school’s first annual Earth Day garden cleanup. Armed with seeds, shovels, and gloves specially made for smaller hands, the class of 24 got to work on the garden. At one station, a group focused on weeding the rain garden and learning about native plants. Another group prepared the soil for bee balm, vegetable seeds, and an Allegheny blackberry bush. The third cleared a bed of invasive mint and planted radishes, carrots, and lettuce in its place. Then, they all rotated so that they could experience the other stations.

 

 

A different class had previously planted strawberries that were just beginning to flower. Grace pointed out that the blooms would soon become fruit, and the class was floored. They had a much harder time envisioning their future blackberries, as one child said, “That’s going to have blackberries next year? It just looks like a stick!”

 

 

There was no way to know which of these kids were receiving the anonymous weekend “Power Packs,” which consist of two non-perishable breakfasts, two lunches, two dinners and two snacks. But as of 2017, 70.4% of the school’s student population was receiving free or reduced lunch– meaning that a solid portion did not always know where their next meal would be coming from. As the ten and eleven-year-olds turned over the soil and read the directions on the back of the seed packets aloud, Grace envisioned a world in which every child had a bountiful harvest right in their backyard.

 

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New Year, New You

01.02.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Food Bank, National Site

For many people living in poverty, eating healthy is a luxury. Eating healthy has been marketed to the masses in America as something that costs a lot of money through purchases such as gym memberships, exercise equipment, and expensive dietary foods and supplements. That is why Harvest Against Hunger AmeriCorps VISTA, Amy Reagan located in Fairfax, VA; teamed up with a Virginia Cooperative Extension SNAP-ED Program Assistant to instruct a nutrition course for the clients of Food for Others. The participating clients are learning how to eat healthy on a budget. All the recipes they learn contain food they can receive from the Food for Others pantry, including a plethora of wonderful produce. Once the 2018 gleaning season gets back into full swing, the extension agent will be able to incorporate seasonal fruits and vegetables for our clients to take home with them.

 

Food for Others staff members with apples

 

In order to set a good example for their clients; the Food for Others staff is participating in a produce consumption challenge, created by Amy. Over the course of her VISTA year, Amy has noticed that there would be produce donated that the staff at Food for Others had either never seen before or had never tried. For example, one client was asking about what an acorn squash was and how to prepare it. None of the staff the client talked to knew, so she left without taking an acorn squash. When a staff member told Amy the next day about what had happened; she realized there was a great training opportunity. She created a list of 42 pictures of different fruits and vegetables that farmers had donated to Food for Others through the Virginia Food Crop Donation Tax Credit. Amy then met with each staff member to review the different produce, identify what they did not like, and note what they have not tried. This challenge will last from February 1, 2018 until December 1, 2018, to ensure that staff members try produce from Virginia’s spring, summer, and fall growing seasons.

 

Food For Others staff member eating a carrot

 

The rules to this challenge are simple:

1) You get 1 point for each item of produce you eat.
2) You can get 1 bonus point for trying a fruit or vegetable you did not already know the name of.
3) You can get 2 points for trying a fruit or vegetable you didn’t like before.
4) You can get 5 points for bringing in a client-friendly recipe for any of the produce you try.
5) Once a week you will record your total points will be recorded.

The staff member with the most points will win a $100 gift card to a grocery store.

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