Altru dietitians volunteer at Hope Community Care Center & Food Pantry to fight food insecurity
Typically, the volunteers will be at each location on the first and third Wednesday of each month between 10 a.m. and noon.
GRAND FORKS — Altru dietitians have been volunteering at Hope Community Care Center & Food Pantry and LaGrave on First as part of The Prescription Nutrition Program since fall 2021.
Typically, the volunteers will be at each location on the first and third Wednesday of each month between 10 a.m. and noon. A volunteer will set up a table there to meet with food pantry participants to inform them of healthy food options available to them.
With funds from the Altru Foundation, the Prescription Nutrition, based on the Geisinger Health Program “Fresh Food Farmacy” concept, was born. It was created to make healthy foods more available and enticing to those who have food insecurity to promote healthy lifestyles and improve access to healthy foods.
When people come in to use the Hope Community Care Center & Food Pantry, a volunteer will screen them to find out what their needs are and if they have any concerns with possible conditions they may have, such as pre-diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol. Volunteers also screen to see if participants have access to other sources of food besides a food pantry, as well as if they need help obtaining food or finding nutrition education.
Sam Rongstad, an Altru volunteer at the Hope Community Care Center & Food Pantry, said it is set up much like a grocery store.
“What we could do, and what we have offered in the past, is to go through with them while they're picking out their groceries, talk about what their concerns are in relation to health and nutrition and then (give) them some advice if they’re looking for that,” Rongstad said.
After the screening period is over, Rongstad said the plan is to provide additional screenings for blood pressure and blood glucose levels.
“Then we can offer them education, either one-on-one discussing with them what their concerns are and giving them nutrition education, or also providing them with nutrition handouts that they can take with them,” Rongstad said.
The dietitians also promote a specific recipe each month when at the food pantry. Rongstad said they discuss recipes with Melanie Newman-Morrow, the assistant director at Hope Community Care Center & Food Pantry. Usually, the recipes include dried goods, such as beans, lentils, pasta or canned tuna or canned chicken and are simple to prepare.
“(We) create meals that are on the healthier side that people that come into the food pantry can try at home,” Rongstad said.
The biggest issue facing those with food insecurity in Grand Forks, according to Rongstad, is access to healthy non-perishable items. While canned fruit and vegetables can be healthy, she said it comes down to options and how long of a shelf life the healthier items have.
Those visiting a food pantry might only have access to it occasionally, sometimes even just once a month. Rongstad said those people will likely opt to purchase items that would last at least until they are able to visit a food pantry again — things like dried pasta, bread and freezer items.
Not having proper appliances needed to cook certain food items is also an issue. Rongstad said some people frequenting food pantries run into.
“Fresh produce is something that they're likely not going to go to first,” Rongstad said. “One, because it's not going to last long, and two, because sometimes they just don't even know what to do with it — how to break it down, how to season it (and) how to prepare it. So that's another reason why we're providing these recipes to them.”
Rongstad said, as far as she knows, there are around 200 or more people regularly utilizing the Hope Community Care Center & Food Pantry. So, what can people do to help or get involved?
“The Hope Food Pantry is always looking for volunteers to help go through and shop with their customers that come in,” Rongstad said. “Actually, volunteering at any of the food pantries would be very helpful, because they're always looking for that participation from the community.”