With the first month of a new year almost over, it seems like a great time to explore why we have begun to focus more on nutrition and wellness here at the Atlanta Community Food Bank.
Our long history of working in the community has made us deeply aware of the complex relationship between hunger, health, and obesity, and how limited access to nutritious food is part of the problem. The USDA defines food security as access to enough food for an active, healthy life. This includes at a minimum (1) the ready availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods, and (2) an assured ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways. We want our work to align with this definition, but also want to more clearly define what we mean by nutritionally adequate. The food that is donated, purchased, and distributed through our network feeds more than 60,000 different people every single week. What we distribute and how we define nutritionally adequate has a profound effect on the food security – and wellness - of the communities we serve.
About a year ago, Feeding America announced a new commitment to increase the distribution of fresh produce throughout the network, and we embraced that commitment by actively seeking and procuring more fresh produce for distribution to the partner agencies in our service area. In the past year we’ve received donations and also purchased large quantities of fresh cherries, figs, sweet potatoes, squash, carrots and more. With the distribution of more beautiful, fresh produce came some wonderful opportunities.
In February, 2012, with the generous support and guidance of MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger and Kaiser Permanente’s Healthy Options, Healthy Meals Initiative, ACFB joined 11 other food banks from all around the country on a quest to substantially increase the nutritional content of the food we distribute. To begin, we assembled a nutrition team of staff from a variety of departments (agency services, advocacy and education, procurement, etc.) and graduate students from Georgia State University, to research and develop nutrition guidelines, program ideas, and to outline next steps.
There is much more work to be done, but we are already seeing some great changes: the distribution of far more fresh produce, an increase in the nutritional quality of the non-perishable foods we distribute with the help of The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), Georgia Nutrition Assistance Program (GNAP) and the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP), and a new nutritional ranking system for the foods in our inventory. This is just the beginning, so stay tuned - there will be new and exciting ways for you to join us on this journey - as we expand our efforts to engage, educate, and empower our community… in healthier ways.
-Lindy Wood, Education and Outreach Manager