ESU graduate students, along with Dr. Clare Lenhart, associate professor of public health, conducted a needs assessment of food pantries within Monroe, and Pike Counties, to investigate how the quality of food could be raised on a nutritional level.
The research began in what may be considered two phases: last academic year looking at the food quality of pantries, and this year looking at barriers on the pantry level.
The Pocono Mountain Hunger Coalition had been tackling this issue as early as 2017, but they first had to assess what the needs of the food pantries were.
“It would be very easy to say ‘We need more fresh produce’ or ‘We need more milk’ but all of those things require cold storage,” Dr. Lenhart said. “It’s just a matter of how much [the pantries] can store and for how long – it’s a capacity issue.”
Different food pantries function on varying distribution schedules. Some operate weekly, while others may supply biweekly, or even monthly. This would result in a major backup of resources that not only takes up space but also must be properly maintained.
An emphasis on the evaluation of food pantries was to make the pantries not solely a source for food, but a source for optimal food.
“The pantries are a part of a second harvest network and they work with Feeding America. It has something called foods to encourage – a standards-based nutrition policy,” Dr. Lenhart said.
The majority of consumers attending food pantries are from a low socioeconomic background and may have health issues influenced by dietary consumption.
The data conducted by the ESU graduate students, as well as Dr. Lenhart, depicted that state-funded food pantries, on average, had a higher proportion of healthier items than non-state funded pantries.
The statistics showed a clear disparity between the two, with nearly half the items in state-funded pantries meeting all requirements of Feeding America’s foods to encourage, and only 27 percent of food from non-state funded pantries meeting all requirements.
Local food pantries provide an essential service for the community, but that does not mean they have the resources to perform at the maximum level.
A goal behind the reformation of local food pantries is to create a feasible meal plan, as well as culturally relevant recipes.
“A doctor may say ‘Eat healthily’ or ‘Eat this type of diet’ but not everyone has the pans and knives and cutting boards and spices to do that,” Dr. Lenhart said.
The Pleasant Valley Ecumenical Network has been making strides to combat this problem. Each month, PVEN releases recipes that are relevant to the food that they are making so that consumers may be able to effectively use the ingredients before them.
The needs assessment of food pantries in Monroe and Pike Counties highlighted the necessity for nutritional education to help provide higher quality options for those in need of food.
After sifting through the data, a follow-up grant from the Healthy Local Pantries Program was approved, which will allow for funding to become available to conduct nutritional education in the pantries of Monroe and Pike Counties.
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