Nutrition Educator David Poms Discusses Initiatives at the Capital Area Food Bank [Webinar]

Nutrition Educator David Poms Discusses Initiatives at the Capital Area Food Bank [Webinar]

David Poms, Director of Education at the Capital Area Food Bank in Washington, DC presented on April 7, 2016 on putting nutrition education in action and making a difference in the community by making healthy food more accessible through the organizations current initiatives.

The following is a partial transcript of the archived presentation, which can be viewed in full here.

DAVID POMS: Thank you so much for the invitation, and good afternoon, everyone. I'm calling to you live from Northeast DC at the Capital Food Area Bank office. I grew up in Bethesda, Maryland, and I went to Davidson College, in 2010 I graduated with a degree in Sociology. I've been involved in education since then, and throughout my college time as well. I spent time in the Freedom School program, a program of the Children's Defense Fund, teaching summer school, and became involved in administering that program later on. I later spent years in AmeriCorps as a member with City Year here in DC.

I realized afterwards that my passion is really with the non-profits and I ended up working with the Capital Area Food Bank starting in 2011, and I've been in a number of different roles, with an increased focus on education.

It's been a very interesting ride with a lot of different experiences. I started as a coordinator of a program that is providing professional development and training for organizations that work in community. In 2013, I began to oversee our nutrition education programs. Since then, we've gone through a variety of programs as we seek to expand them and integrate them more into what the food bank is doing overall.

About the Food Bank
The mission of the bank is to create access to good, healthy food for people in every community. And this has largely been the mission that we've had since we were founded in 1980 by a group of interfaith organizers and United Planning Organization, who came together and realized that there needed to be a larger organization to facilitate food recovery and food distribution. We are a private charitable nonprofit organization founded as a single collection and distribution point for food donations in order to increase the capacity of organizations that are front-line agencies to really ensure that they have the capacity to store and distribute food. We are also a member of Feeding America, a coalition of food banks across the country.

At the food bank we're able to provide a connection for people in order to find and receive food. We have an online resource called The Food Bank Network, where you can type in your Zip code to find a program nearby.

We have a number of different direct distribution programs in addition to partnering with our front-line organizations.

  • Mobile Markets, which are setting up temporarily and set up kind of like farmers markets
  • Grocery Plus and Senior Brown Bag programs, which are two programs that are serving seniors in the District and in Maryland and Virginia
  • Family Market and Joyful Market programs are school pantries where we set up in a cafeteria or gymnasium and serve school communities directly
  • Weekend Bag gives bags to kids to take home for the weekend to fill the gap for food from the meals that they have during the week
  • Kids Cafes are afterschool and summer foodservice programs

Most of the programs that I mentioned just now have a variety of support from both government and private sector.

The Washington, DC area includes about 700,000 residents who are at risk of hunger, 16% of the region. In particular, hunger is rising in Maryland and Virginia as various forces are pushing people to those areas as well as creating difficult challenges for people who are in suburban neighborhoods, who are becoming more and more disconnected from transportation, and housing, employment and such, and hunger continues to be an issue in Washington as well.

Nutrition Facts
A couple of interesting statistics related to nutrition have really pushed us to rethink a lot of ways that we're operating. With Feeding America's support, a study is done every four years called "Hunger in America." The Hunger in America study found for 2014 (of about 540,000 people):

  • 48% of households served by the Capital Area Food Bank have a family member with high blood pressure
  • 22% have a family member with diabetes
  • 70% of households served by the food bank are reporting that they are purchasing inexpensive, unhealthy food as a coping strategy to hunger

How the Food Bank Operates
As a food bank, we're a single donation point. We're working through partner organizations that are doing afterschool programs, faith-based pantries, community organizations, etc. Through both those organizations and the direct distribution programs that I mentioned, we are serving communities who are food insecure - seniors, under and unemployed, and families in crisis.

The statistic that we share constantly is that out of the total number of people that we serve, we estimate about only 5% of them are actually homeless. And more often than not, people who we are serving are employed. So hunger is a pretty striking phenomenon in America today.

We get donations from farms, from the food industry, from retailers, and food drives. We also purchase a lot of food. We do direct-cost community purchasing. We also receive grants to be able to purchase different items. And then we are a registered distributor with USDA for a variety of programs. Most prominently that's the TEFAP program, The Emergency Food Assistance Program, which is the evolution of what you would have heard of as government cheese, referred to as that sort of type of program where they're buying commodities, buying in bulk. Similarly, we are administrators of a program in DC that provides USDA food to seniors directly.

How the Food Bank Focuses on Nutrition & Wellness
What's fascinating about my time at the food bank, in my opinion, is that we're a very interesting part of the food system. And we have a variety of ways to influence foods that are received by the communities we serve.

The most exciting thing that we're doing right now is really focusing on the wellness of the food we provide. It's a fairly new phenomenon in food banks across the country. There have been a couple different systems that have gone out, but essentially what the most prominent thing is that food banks are doing now is we're beginning to look at the food and actually rank food based on the nutritional content.

So we're trying to recognize where there's already healthy food in our inventory and focus on places where we can bring in healthier food and discontinue the distribution of unhealthier foods. That includes having nutrition policy as far as what we accept, and also pursuing some of these things that we really want to have in our inventory.

1. Food Ranking System: So how do we think about ranking this food? We look at three different attributes of food:

  • Sodium content – we are looking for items that have 7 milligrams of sodium per serving or less as listed on the nutrition facts label
  • Sugar content- varies by category, but for example, for cereal we look for a number of grams of sugar per serving
  • Fiber content – we're looking at pastas and rice and to see whether the first ingredient listed is whole grain

For each category we're only ranking on one of those things. We're actually looking at items that may be kind of high in sodium and sugar, but if they're in a categories that we're only ranking on sodium, then that's how we're going to rank it and call them wellness or not wellness.

So the challenges inherent to managing the logistics here really dictate what we're capable of doing. But this effort and those similarly happening at food banks across the country is kind of the cutting edge in terms of being able to get healthier food to a community.

This ranking system was really founded in part by our registered dietitian on staff. So I am not a registered dietitian, but I work closely with her in order to distribute the food and information that I'm talking about here. She's the one who really developed the process of creating that ranking system. She worked with our resources team to make that happen. And those rankings are based on her assessment that was done over a number of years of the food that is in each category.

What this ranking system has allowed us to do is really be able to plan for and bring it healthier food donations. So 78% of the food that we distributed in fiscal year '15 was actually meeting our wellness standards. And we have a big focus on distributing fresh produce. We have very generous donors who have actually been able to make that as cheap as possible for our partners who procure from us and be able to purchase that fresh produce.

2. Educating Partners and the Community: We actually have to do a lot to make sure that we're educating the community. We're doing food drives, educating our retailers, and so there are some interesting things there where we're trying to do to influence what food comes to us through donations, but there's only so much control we have over that. We're starting to see partners choose healthier options. And so in that way we're actually increasing demand for healthier foods through our system through our partners. We actually have a new program called Partners for Wellness, which is incentivizing those partners to choose the wellness options on our menu, as well as distributing nutrition education resources as well.

3. Developing Recipes for Food Distributed: In addition to working with our partners we're also helping them to serve their communities better. We produce certain resources including recipe cards. What makes these recipes special is the ingredients are built around what you might expect to receive in an emergency food or supplementary food package.

So nothing too complicated. We're not putting in too many ingredients. We're looking at providing people with detailed instructions at how to make these recipes with tips on how to make it a meal. We are providing key messages from the dietary guidelines like make half your plate fruits and veggies, and just encouraging people with positive messages.

This effort actually was started in partnership with the Center for Science in the Public Interest. They have a chef on staff that really helped us design and target these recipes in terms of the nutrition information.

And then we are also producing a similar resource called "Produce Guides." These are guides to using different types of produce. So includes the storage information, the preparation, a quick recipe, again the nutrition information, and just different ways you can use it, and a tip at the bottom right there. Mostly focused around what we're using these for is helping people become familiar with produce items that either they may not be familiar with, so just giving them some ideas on how to use them in a better way.

4. Health Ambassador Trainings: This is something that I directly oversee. We have our Health Ambassador training. This is a Train the Trainer for our partners where they are coming in and building skills around creating an educational food pantry. Training includes sourcing healthy foods from the food bank and from other sources, how to prepare and promote low-cost healthy meals, and how to conduct a cooking demonstration and taste test.

5. Cooking Matters Program: We also operate the Cooking Matters program. This is a partnership with Share Our Strength.

Basically what we do is we prepare meals and talk about food preparation and food procurement and nutrition in each one of these classes. There are typically about 8 to 15 participants; whether that's adults or families-- you can participate together with your parent or child. We also have some kids' courses that we do.

And what we found from these courses was an increase in self-reported consumption of fruits and vegetables, and the cooking confidence, and the willingness to share the information in the community.

Besides focusing on healthy meal preparation, we have a pop-up grocery store tour is really just focused on teaching shopping skills. This includes how do you compare unit prices? What's the best type of produce to buy and for what situation between fresh, frozen, and canned produce? How do I use a nutrition facts label?

6. Gardens & Demonstration Gardens: We have a demonstration garden to illustrate how people can grow food in an urban environment and are educating people about how to grow those foods as well. We also have a grant to build gardens and provide education to and training to our partner organizations in the community who are then growing food for production, meaning that they're distributing the food, or for education.

To summarize, since my time at the food bank in 2011, and with my research into how the food banking world has evolved, what we're really doing now is exciting in terms of integrating nutrition and health and wellness into our total operations. We have a strategic plan and our first objective on that plan is to fill in the hunger safety net for everyone who needs food in any type of context. And then the second part of the plan is contributing to the health and wellness for our community.

It's a really exciting time, for myself and this might be true for a lot of you. I know it's true for a lot of folks who I've met who are in a nutrition education field that more and more we're seeing people focusing on food. You see this in a variety of contexts, but so many people I know are really understanding and trying to contribute to the health and wellness of our community. So I applaud you all for studying what you're studying, and I hope you'll be able to find a way to give back to the community in some way.

More Nutrition Education Webinars from American University
Dietary Guidelines Webinar with Dr. Anastasia Snelling
Nutrition Education in Action: Webinar with Dr. Elizabeth Cotter

To learn more about American University's online Master of Science in Nutrition Education, request more information or call us toll free at 855-725-7614.