The circumstances of poverty limit many of our clients to cheap calorie-dense but nutritionally deficient food choices. For example, instead of spending $5 on a bag of greens, many will understandably choose to stretch their dollars by purchasing a $5 combo meal from McDonald’s.
An unhealthy diet devoid of different vitamins and minerals can undermine long-term mental and physical health, reduce productivity, and increase healthcare costs. All of these adverse effects of eating unhealthily contribute to the cycle of intergenerational poverty.
It is essential to educate food bank clients on cooking with nutrient-dense foods in order to break the cycle. While it is easy to be ecstatic about being able to offer clients a huge variety of fresh produce, it is also easy to forget that not all clients know how to prepare these foods. Due to cultural divides, branding of vegetables towards people who are often wealthier (think: kale as a white, wealthy food), and a lack of prior accessibility, many food bank clients will skip over certain fruits and vegetables. When clients do not know how to prepare certain fruits and vegetables, they will not take them. This creates more food waste. By educating clients, the pantry both empowers clients, improves their health and reduces waste.
Teaching clients how to provide items they are unfamiliar with does not have to be extensive. There are many simple things a pantry can do that will go a long way when it comes to helping clients improve their diet. The most effective way to get someone to take an item is to allow them to sample it first. Sampling can range between serving raw kohlrabi on a plate with ranch dressing to enlisting a volunteer to do a cooking demonstration of a main dish in the lobby.
Not all fruits and vegetables that are grown locally reflect what they look like in grocery store displays. For example, locally grown cauliflower comes in green, yellow, and purple shades—cauliflower has historically been branded in grocery stores as white. Including a blurb with the item on why it is a different color than typically sold is a great idea to put clients’ minds at ease.
Food for Others officially began feeding the hungry from its Merrifield site in 1995. Today food supply, storage and distribution activities are made possible by a network of active volunteers, supporting churches and organizations, grocery stores, farms, gardens, farmers markets, and retail food contributor in addition to the receiving community centers, soup kitchens, and food pantries who together are dedicated to feeding the hungry of Northern Virginia. Nine staff members are employed full time to handle operations at our warehouse. All officers and directors are volunteers who work without compensation. Volunteers staff the office and are responsible for program administration and fundraising.
Food for Others provides free food to those in need throughout Northern Virginia. We distribute food in 4 ways, through our emergency warehouse distributions, through our 17 neighborhood sites across Northern Virginia that occur on weeknights, through our 14 community partners, and through our weekend food program for children at 29 Fairfax County Schools. Across all programs we serve an average of 1,800 families per week. Currently, we are focusing on providing healthier foods to our clients because we know that poor nutrition can have lasting detrimental effects on our community.