USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin’s annual Stock the Shelves campaign runs through Nov. 11. This year’s goal is to raise $325,000 statewide. (The Press-Gazette’s goal is $75,000.) The Gannett Foundation will donate $50,000 this year.
GREEN BAY – Stuart McCallum has a great appreciation food pantries — not just for the food they provide, but the guidance the organizations give him and others to better their lives.
McCallum, 46, of Green Bay, has visited area food pantries like Paul’s Pantry and Manna for Life Ministries — two Stock the Shelves beneficiaries — on and off over the years. Now and then, McCallum has needed help getting by after he had to quit working to take care of a family member suffering from severe diabetes complications.
That and his own recent diabetes diagnosis have inspired him to learn about healthy foods and how making good choices can lead to a brighter future.
GIVE: Click here to donate to a food pantry near you
On-site nutrition education key to pantry success
Last week, McCallum and several others attended a nutrition class at Manna for Life. The course was on the different types of grains.
Liliana Ramirez, nutrition educator for Brown County University of Wisconsin-Extension’s FoodWIse program, spoke about whole grains being more nutritious than refined grains, and how labels on packaged foods can be misleading. She said real whole grain snacks, for instance, should have the grains listed first or second on the ingredients panel.
“I love what I do because I get to empower people with knowledge,” she said.
McCallum said he really valued a lesson about how and why to watch for added sugars and other hidden ingredients in food. He said he now makes it a priority to read food nutrition labels to decide what he should and shouldn’t eat to better manage his blood sugar.
UW-Extension acts as a resource for a large network of food pantries in the county, and its FoodWIse program aims to educate Wisconsin residents with limited incomes on how to make good food choices and curb health disparities.
Liliana Ramirez, nutrition educator for Brown County’s University of Wisconsin-Extension’s FoodWIse program, speaks to clients about the importance of whole grains during a short class Thursday at Manna for Life Ministries in Green Bay. (Photo: Sarah Kloepping/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin)
Karen Early, FoodWIse coordinator, said the number of cases of diet-related health problems is two to three times greater in the low-income community. The goal of food pantries, she said, is to address and combat food insecurity with the most nutrient-dense foods as possible.
Ramirez and two other nutrition educators meet with pantries on a monthly basis to teach a variety of 20-minute nutrition lessons. Besides grains, other course topics include how to eat well on a budget and what are the best fruits and vegetables.
Ramirez teaches multiple courses over a two-hour period during her visits. The courses, she said, typically attract between three and 12 participants, but that attendance usually increases if there’s an incentive such as getting an extra fresh produce item from the pantry.
The classes, Early said, aren’t mandatory. Availability of transportation, as well busy work and family schedules, means not everyone coming through pantry doors has time to attend the classes — but that doesn’t mean education is any less of a priority.
It’s not enough to give people in need food, Ramirez said. They need to know why certain foods are better than others, how they can incorporate nutritious foods in their diets and have some idea of how to prepare the foods.
“Our education is giving them the tools they need to make the most of the foods they get at the pantry,” Ramirez said.
In addition to nutrition classes, FoodWIse has some cooking classes in the works where participants will be taught basic cooking skills.
Early said the classes will give people direction on how to enjoy foods they’ve never cooked before, such as a salmon, squash and tofu.
Pantries appreciate mindful donations
Education is important for those who get food from pantries, but healthy diets can only be achieved if donations made to pantries consist of foods with nutritional value. That’s why pantries are continuing to push for healthy foods, Early said, while avoiding things like sugary cereals and drinks, salty noodle mixes and bakery items.
Food pantries want:
- Protein: seafood, nuts and poultry
- Fruit: packed in juice, dried or sauce
- Soup: vegetable and protein
- Whole grains: pasta and cereal
- Colorful vegetables
Early said monetary donations are highly encouraged as the pantries can use the funds to buy the specific things they need when they need them.
How to give
To donate to the USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin’s Stock the Shelves campaign, go to www.wisinfo.com/wm/stock-the-shelves/greenbay.php.
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