MANNA FoodBank’s Nutrition Works program strives to address hunger’s impact on the health of our Western North Carolina communities. Through practical approaches that focus on sustainability and strong relationships with existing local programs and resources, we build a network of people and organizations working to reduce food insecurity while improving community health.
Addressing the Intersection of Hunger and Health
North Carolinians experience a higher rate of health issues than the national average, and the Appalachian region of the state again outpaces event the state’s higher rates. The connection of hunger to chronic health issues is clear: processed, sugar-laden foods are far more affordable than nutritious foods, and thus more accessible and easier on a household budget already struggling to afford basic groceries.
Research indicates that addressing food insecurity is often the least expensive and least invasive treatment with the fewest side effects in terms of confronting the chronic health risks that many of our food insecure clients are facing. In MANNA’s 16-county service area, community health assessments have identified the top health priorities for each county, many of which are directly connected to food and nutrition.
Working through an organizational lens of nutrition, the Nutrition Works team provides support and guidance for acquiring the most nutritious foods available to maintain a balance of calorie-dense and nutrient-dense foods. MANNA maintains an average of 30% fresh produce in the total inventory. Over 60% of MANNA’s inventory is categorized as “healthy staples,” which includes canned and frozen fruits and vegetables, whole grains, proteins, and dairy items.
Growing Healthy Food Access with Partners
Building partnerships is key to addressing the widespread issue of health implications connected to food insecurity. From working with MANNA’s partner agency network, to partnering with health providers and regional clinics for food insecurity screenings, the Nutrition Works program is focused on supporting a culture of health and nutrition throughout the region with an emphasis on sustainable healthy food access.
Food Relief Partners
The Nutrition Works program works to build a network of healthy pantry environments that are providing and promoting healthy food. The team engages with members of the MANNA Partner Network, MANNA Community Market hosts, and other emergency food providers around nutrition education and behavior change with a strategic approach built on an evidence-based model. This model includes cooking demonstrations, taste tests, and nutritious recipes for dissemination with a focus on items available at the pantry and requiring a low level of effort in the kitchen. Other proven strategies to promote a healthy food access environment include connecting partners to local health-related resources, nutrition information, signage, and merchandising support.
The program collaborates with healthcare providers to initiate food insecurity screening and referrals in a clinic setting, including Western North Carolina Medical Society, Appalachian Mountain Community Health Centers, Mountain Community Health Partnerships, Mission Health Partners, and Charles C. George V.A. Medical Center. These providers screen patients and refer food-insecure individuals to MANNA’s Food Helpline and members of MANNA’s partner network providing fresh produce and other nutritious foods.
North Carolina ranks as one of the top 10 hungriest states in the nation. While MANNA’s day-to-day activities focus exclusively on the 16-county service area of WNC, our strategic efforts to address hunger and the related health impacts of food insecurity take on a larger scope through state and national partnerships. Thanks to a partnership with North Carolina Extension, the Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina, and North Carolina State University’s Steps to Health Program, the Nutrition Works team developed a healthy pantry training called The Nuts & Bolts of a Healthy Pantry. This training is now utilized across the state, providing a foundation of nutrition-based work with partners serving food-insecure communities.
Nutrition Works fosters future registered dietitians through hosting dietetic interns from regional educational institutions. Budding professionals learn how to apply their knowledge of nutrition to help develop recipes, contribute to policy development, and produce nutrition education and promotional materials. Through this partnership, interns walk away with real-life professional experience through hands-on field work, and a deeper understanding of the importance of nutrition in the larger scope of health and human services.