Kevin Seggelke is the Executive Director for the Food Bank of the Rockies in Denver, Colorado and served on the Feeding America Nutrition Task Force.
Nutrition. Just a few years ago, every time I heard it, I pushed that word out of our food bank's vocabulary. It wasn't our job to tell people what to eat. It wasn't our place to tell donors what to donate. A calorie was a calorie. A pound was a pound. We were moving a lot of food to people who needed it. And most of it was pretty good food. Why focus on something we really couldn't control?
As I sat on the Nutrition Task Force for Feeding America, I listened to my colleagues thoughts on the subject. They were diverse and covered a wide spectrum. Some had nutritionists on staff, some refused to distribute soda or "junk" foods, some were ranking products and providing education. Others had views more in line with mine.
We had an opportunity to pursue adding a nutrition component to our food bank with some funding from MAZON. It appeared nutrition was moving to the forefront of Feeding America's radar, so we decided to dip our toe in the pool and learn more. We worked to develop a nutrition policy and while not as strict as some food banks', it works for us and allows us to focus more on the things we can do.
We began tracking what types of products we were distributing. We increased our purchased produce and started taking a close look at the other items we purchased, ensuring they met with our new policy. We began reaching out to our donors to encourage them to contribute healthy items whenever possible. We received an amazing grant for a dehydration project to allow us to dry and preserve fruits and vegetables from our farm communities so they'll be available much longer than just the growing season. And we've joined with our sister food banks in the state to reach out to the agricultural community for more help with nutritious donations.
Do we still distribute soda and candy? Yes, we still take every safe donation that comes through our doors, simply because a company who gives us "junk" food may also give us healthy products, may volunteer and may provide cash contributions as well--we don't want to lose those donations. We also don't tell our agencies or clients what to eat; however, we strive to make sure they have healthy options available each time they visit our food bank or mobile pantry. Our mix has changed to include more whole grains, produce and low-fat protein items. Soda and candy are a smaller percentage of what we distribute today.
Down the road, we may hire a nutritionist or find ways to provide education on nutrition to clients and partner agencies. We hope to implement a ranking system to help our agencies make better choices. We know we'll need to invest additional dollars and human resources in the future to keep moving to provide healthier choices for those in need. Nutrition is no longer a dirty word at our food bank, but a word representing a work in progress.