HENDERSON, Ky. — For individuals and families with limited resources, finding ways to make ends meet can be a struggle each month. The University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service has worked with Henderson Christian Community Outreach for the past decade to make sure the community’s most vulnerable have the information they need to make their food dollars go further.
“We just want the community to know we are here and that we can take educational materials from the university and bring them to the local level,” said Amanda Hardy, Henderson County family and consumer sciences extension agent.
Henderson Christian Community Outreach is a non-denominational organization that is funded by 30 partnering community churches and has served the Henderson community for 35 years. It offers clients a food pantry and a variety of economic assistance.
“It is so important for families to be able select their own food and fill in the gaps for what they can’t get with their food stamps,” said Mary Dunham, executive director of Henderson Christian Community Outreach.
Rohdene Rollins, family and consumer sciences extension program assistant, has offered a series of cooking and nutrition classes at the center since she began working for extension. In the classes, Rollins has taught clients about reading nutrition labels, cost comparisons, MyPlate and measuring. Prior to the pandemic, she often did a food demonstration and allowed clients to taste the recipe as part of her classes.
“It makes me feel good that I can go into the community and provide some resources to help them out,” Rollins said.
Clients who attended the entire series received incentive items, such as a gift card to purchase meat at the neighboring grocery store.
“We are always looking for new opportunities for our families to learn,” Dunham said. “Once they become a part of our outreach family, then they are willing to do other things. We came up with the cooking class idea with extension, because there are some things on our shelves that folks may not know how to prepare.”
When the pandemic hit, families needed nutrition information more than ever. The food pantry at Henderson Christian Community Outreach provided food to 9,200 families in 2020. Rollins and Hardy got creative to continue to reach those clients with in-person meetings no longer being possible. They provided the organization’s clients with educational bags that included nutrition information and recipes they were used to getting in person.
“Sometimes our families are so used to driving through fast-food places,” Dunham said. “Well, that’s expensive, and there is just not enough money sometimes to do that. If we can come up with recipes that are very quick and everything they can use off our shelves, that may help them have healthier meals than what they can get at the fast-food places.”
Hardy and Rollins are developing videos where they provide nutrition education and demonstrate how to prepare items clients might find in the food pantry. Extension is providing the videos on jump drives, so clients can watch the lessons at their convenience in their homes. They have also applied for a grant to purchase a television for the organization, so the clients can watch the nutrition resources at the center while they wait to shop at the food pantry.
The Henderson County Master Gardeners, 4-H members, Rollins and horticulture agent Andy Rideout have also worked with the organization to install a community garden. Clients learn about gardening and harvest the produce themselves.
— Katie Pratt, University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food and Environment
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