Extension receives 2019 Partner of the Year Award

two females standing with foodbank award plaque in front of Eastern Illinois Foodbank backdrop

University of Illinois Extension received the 2019 Community Partner of the Year Award from the Eastern Illinois Foodbank. This award is given to a community organization each year who has partnered with the Foodbank to help further the mission of alleviating hunger in Eastern Illinois communities.

Over this past year, Extension’s Illinois Nutrition Education Programs worked closely with the Foodbank and five partner agencies to implement nudges in community food pantries.  Nudges are free to low cost changes that pantries can use to encourage clients to make healthier food choices.

St. Vincent DePaul Pantry in Bloomington, Illinois, said their pantry has seen an increase in the number of clients taking produce as a result of the new nudges, especially the improved method of displaying produce.

Led by Extension educators Caitlin Kownacki, Staci Coussens and Michelle Fombelle, agencies received an assessment using the Nutrition Environment Food Pantry Assessment Tool, which resulted in a personalized action plan for each agency. The Foodbank purchased equipment and shelving for the pantries, while Extension worked with the agencies on nudge implementation.

“Working with Eastern Illinois Foodbank on the grant has allowed the food pantries to purchase equipment that really brings the healthiest items in the pantry into the spotlight,” said Caitlin Kownacki, Extension specialist. “For example, at Wesley Food Pantry on campus they converted the main part of their pantry into an entire produce section with attractive shelving and displays. This has really brought attention to the most nutritious foods, making them easier to see, reach, and, ultimately, to choose.”

Successful nudges included displaying posters and signs to encourage fruits and vegetables, installing new shelves to increase the appeal of available foods, and bundling together recipe ingredients into a single package for easy selection and use by clients. In addition, agency staff and volunteers received training and new food safety and nutrition policies were adopted where appropriate.

Caitlin Kownacki accepted the award on behalf of Extension at the Eastern Illinois Foodbank’s Partner Recognition Event on September 5, 2019. The Eastern Illinois Foodbank provides food in 18 Illinois counties to more than 160 agencies and programs that assist individuals and families dealing with hunger and food insecurity.

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Caitlin Kownacki