Better Food for Pantries

March 26, 2018

Nutrition Assessment Conducted for Food Pantries in Monroe County

Second Harvest Food Bank of the Lehigh Valley and Northeast Pennsylvania, in coordination with United Way of Monroe County and the Pocono Mountains Hunger Coalition held a Hunger Action Workshop all day on Monday, March 26th, 2018 at Northampton Community College, Monroe Campus in Tannersville, Pa, with dozens of Food Pantry directors and volunteers present.

Supplemental food providers from across the region attended Monday’s event, where they received Food Safety and Civil Rights Training. This also served as an opportunity for agencies to share tips and ideas for better operations and coordination. The event featured a research presentation from Sydney Huerbin, MPH candidate at East Stroudsburg University. Huerbin presented the results of her research on the nutritional quality of food pantries in Monroe County, implemented in partnership with United Way and the Pocono Mountains Hunger Coalition.

Huerbin’s research looked at the nutritional quality of foods that are distributed through our community’s emergency and supplemental food system. There is lots of evidence across the country that food insecurity (about 12% in Monroe County) can lead to increased health challenges including obesity and diabetes, in part due to the poor-quality of food that low-income families are able to access because it is often cheaper and more readily available. “When we think about helping people, it is important for us to work together towards decreasing already-existing health disparities, so that we are helping in a constructive way.” said Jennifer Strauch, vice president of community impact at United Way of Monroe County.

Using Feeding America’s “Foods to Encourage” (F2E) guidelines to identify healthier more nutritious foods, Ms. Huerbin and her team visited eleven food pantries in the area, looking at food held in storage as well as what was ultimately given out to clients. Her findings? Mixed. When looking at foods stored in the food pantries by weight, nearly 75% of the food met the F2E guidelines. However, when looking at food by number of items, the number meeting F2E reduced to 50%, and then down to 28% when looking at number of items that were actually distributed to small families. Furthermore, when Huerbin and her team compared food pantries that receive support from the state that have dedicated funds to purchase some of their food, compared to those that more heavily rely on donated food, the results showed that the state supported programs were better off. That is, donated food alone may mean less quality.

What are the take home messages? “There are a bunch of things going on here,” noted Huerbin. “It seems that if agencies have more funds instead of donated food, they are going to be able to provide healthier food. The pantry directors seem to understand the need and value of providing healthy food, but just don’t have the resources to purchase quality food. In addition, though, there likely needs to be some community education, as individuals accessing these pantries may be gravitating towards the less healthy food. This could mean cooking demos or better information about how to prepare certain healthier foods that are available.”

Pocono Mountains Hunger Coalition

The Pocono Mountains Hunger Coalition worked with Huerbin to implement this study. The coalition’s vision is to end hunger in our community and the group maintains a mission of increasing efficiency in the supplemental food system through three priority areas: Access to healthy food, Coordination of resources, and Education efforts to increase awareness about the importance of nutrition and the effect of hunger among vulnerable populations in our community. The results of this research will be used to inform priorities and programs by the coalition in addressing hunger in our community.

The Pocono Mountains Hunger Coalition meets the third Thursday of every month at 6pm in Keystone Room 242 at Northampton Community College in Tannersville. Anyone interested in taking up the fight against hunger in our community is encouraged to attend. For questions, they can reach out to Jennifer Strauch through our contact form here.