Their Stories

According to Feeding America, lower food security is linked to a greater probability of developing chronic diseases including hypertension, coronary heart disease, stroke, cancer, and diabetes. Such diseases can be avoided or improved by eating healthy and being physically active. This is particularly true for food pantry guests who are dependent on pantries for much of their nutrition. Midwest Food Bank-Peoria recognized how the charitable food system can help our neighbors make wise eating choices by offering more healthful options for their partnering agencies.

With the help of a local coalition, Healthy Eating Active Living (HEAL), 418 food pantry guests and 168 food pantry managers responded to a survey to help identify strategies to support healthier food items at the food pantry. The survey identified both food pantry guests and food pantry volunteers wish for more fruits, vegetables and lean proteins at the local pantry.

Midwest Food Bank- Peoria teamed up with a group of local partners including local SNAP-Ed Educator, Tazewell County Health Department, Illinois Public Health Institute, Basil’s Harvest, Peoria Area Food Bank and others write and seek input for the Food Bank’s nutrition policy. With this policy approved in, the food bank strives to acquire and distribute foods that will help improve access to nutritious foods and make health equitable for all families in the community. Nutrition plays a vital role in achieving health in all aspects of a person’s life. A nutrition policy is as a long-term commitment to improving the health of the community that will to evolve over time.

Kaitlyn Streitmatter, Senior manager, policy, systems, and environmental change

In July of 2021, Illinois SNAP-Ed piloted a new nutrition environmental assessment tool that was created for food banks. Midwest Food Bank-Bloomington/Normal Division agreed to participate in the pilot. As a result of that assessment, Midwest Food Bank decided they wanted top pursue the creation of a nutrition policy for their location.

IL SNAP-Ed worked with the bank to personalize a sample policy to make it work for Midwest Food Bank, since they are not part of the Feeding America network. Their policy outlined the ways the food bank would prioritize procuring healthier foods and plan to increase the amount of healthy items to 30% of their total product by the end of 2022.

After they had board approval of their new policy, Illinois SNAP-Ed and Midwest Food Bank implemented a nudging strategy using the greenlight guidelines set by the HER Nutrition Guidelines for the Charitable Food System. Illinois SNAP-Ed provided them with flip cards that had the nutrition standards to be considered a green food and gave them signs to place on the green items when distribution is taking place. A flyer was also provided to be shared with their partner agencies about why they were choosing to use this new greenlight strategy. 

"Staci [Coussens, SNAP-Ed educator] and all of our Extension contacts have worked hard to help us develop a nutrition policy, which we officially adopted in January. Next we will begin the Green Light program to encourage healthier choices when our agencies choose their foods at our distributions. The Extension team has provided countless resources to help us in these steps, including flip cards for Green Light, recipes for the healthier foods on our distribution line, and even offered to set up trainings for our volunteers and staff." - Tara Ingham, Executive Director - Bloomington/Normal

Staci Coussens, SNAP-Ed educator

A client who attends the Happy Hearts Senior Center shared he didn’t eat many vegetables in the winter, due to the increased cost of fresh versions and his need to avoid canned versions due to the salt content. SNAP-Ed staff encouraged him to try frozen vegetables, as they are lower in salt. In the next session, he shared he had tried frozen vegetables and they have made a difference in his diet. “I am eating vegetables all through the winter months now, what a difference!” he stated. 

INEP Team Member

A woman attended an activity station at a local food pantry and shared struggles with healthy snacks. SNAP-Ed staff discussed potential solutions with her, and she agreed to start making her own healthier snack mix at home. Later that same month, SNAP-Ed staff saw the same woman at the Family Community Resource Center. She stated she made the snack mix each week and prepared pre-cut vegetables and homemade dip. She now eats very few snack cakes and candy and enjoys the newer, healthier snack options. Additionally, she is saving money by purchasing fewer highly processed snacks!

INEP Team Member

A mother who has previously attended Eating Smart, Being Active nutrition classes spoke with SNAP-Ed staff recently. She has been implementing strategies learned from SNAP-Ed to improve her family’s health. Recently, she started cutting up fresh fruits and vegetables ahead of time so they are ready to eat when her children are hungry. She has noticed her children reach for these options before looking for more highly processed choices in the pantry. As a result, their fruit and vegetable intake has increased!

INEP Team Member

During National School Lunch Week, elementary students received pomegranates as part of a lunchroom taste test. Many students were unfamiliar with pomegranates and were hesitant to try it at school. The majority of the students voted yes, they enjoyed the fruit! As a result, the food services director said she would incorporate it on the school lunch menu.

INEP Team Member

During a recent SNAP-Ed nutrition class, a male participant shared he lost 39 pounds this year by making changes he learned in previous nutrition education classes.

INEP Team Member

During an adult class, SNAP-Ed discussed choices when shopping for foods, and how to change an unhealthier food ‘want’ into a healthier food ‘need.’ A female participant shared, “I could buy whole-grain crackers instead of chips. I learned that from one of your lessons before!” Later, the same woman shared “this class has made me think more about what I eat and buy.”

INEP Team Member

After transitioning to a client-centered, shopping style pantry with INEP assistance, time spent and waste produced by the pantry decreased. Frequent nutrition education is also provided to pantry clients with topics such as healthy fats and oils.

INEP Team Member

The recipes I have brought home are easy to make and save me time. Plus, my daughter eats more fruits and vegetables and drinks more water since your classes started at her school!

Mom and frequent class attendee

I enjoy hearing how our families are taking the information received in these nutrition classes and using it in their own homes.

Health coordinator/nurse, Early Head Start Program

After a recent class, the teacher told me one of the parents shared that her daughter, who used to be a very picky eater, is now trying new foods during dinner.

INEP Team Member