Senior nutrition students at The University of Southern Mississippi recently applied what they learned from shelves of books to help individuals served through shelves of a community food pantry.
In a spring 2014 capstone course, led by Dr. Holly Huye of the College of Health’s Department of Nutrition and Food Systems, students participated in a service-learning project that assisted the Edwards Street Fellowship Center (ESFC).
“The key desired outcomes of the service-learning project included describing the clients that participate in the ESFC programs, identify nutrition and programming needs, and develop handouts and recipes for ESFC clients,” said Dr. Huye.
The ESFC is a non-profit on the southeast side of Hattiesburg that helps individuals and families with various needs. More than 1,000 families from eight Pine Belt counties are served by its food pantry. The nutrition students helped sort and prepare food for delivery or service, hosted informational tables and conducted interviews and questionnaires.
"Our food pantry clients really appreciated the recipes the class members gave them. It is helpful for them to get tips on how to cook nutritious dishes with the staple items they receive in our food pantry bags, like peanut butter, rice and beans,” said ESFC director Ann McCullen. “Several of the recipes were translated into Spanish by one of the students, which certainly met a need with our Hispanic clients.”
To help ESFC better identify and serve its clients, students conducted 62 voluntary surveys collecting details such as race, education level, medical history and employment data. “This information is invaluable as we plan for new programs and services to meet the needs of our community,” said McCullen.
Students reflected on the course and appreciated the collective and personal impact of the service-learning project. “It fosters camaraderie among classmates, introduces them to new individuals at various volunteer sites, and has the potential to create a passion for volunteerism in students, which can further benefit the community for years to come,” one student said.
Another student said the project showed how she could work in a food pantry. “A registered dietitian can be there to help make the family bags more nutritious. They also can educate the clients on healthy eating, shopping on a budget, and various recipes that use the staple items.”
The 14 senior dietetic students presented their service-learning experience, survey and interview results to local registered dietitians, ESFC directors, department faculty and junior students, among others. Josh Duplantis, director of the Center for Community and Civic Engagement, also attended as he assisted in the needs assessment for ESFC prior to the semester.
“The survey results and other data provided by this class project have been a huge benefit to our center as we cast visions for the future of Edwards Street Fellowship Center,” said McCullen. “We told Dr. Huye that we hope to partner with her classes again in years to come."