Lindsey here. For four years I’ve worked in Nutrition Education at Manna. It’s also how long, before that, I applied for job after job, competing with more experienced colleagues who lost their careers in the Recession.
My role here is rooted in the community; I’m on-the-go to schools, senior apartments, and community centers most days of the week. My classes have grandmothers and grandchildren, veterans and students—I receive both stories and hugs.
In these four years, the Nutrition Education workshops evolve with the concerns of our community: as I hear complaints about deceptive advertisements, we develop a new “Nutrition Fact or Fiction” class. As more and more adults share their confusion over this new “prediabetic” diagnosis, we created a two-part series on habits to hinder diabetes and chronic disease. We talk about small, practical steps that make sense in a busy, budgeted lifestyle: walking and dancing with your kids, drinking fruit-infused water, purchasing wholesome foods (oats, onions, carrots) in bulk—to last beyond the week.
In a span of two days, I was reminded: people here are hungry. Participants are tired, frustrated, worried, too–that’s easier to see. Hunger is not always so visible in America, few people standing in line for food assistance appear severely underweight.
In my most recent Cooking Matters at the Store grocery tour, a participant had to sit down for the second half of the class because she was so dizzy. In conversation, I learned that she had not eaten since a bagel at breakfast—seven hours earlier—because she ran out of food at home. Over some fresh watermelon, we discussed unit prices and nutrition labels on the store’s front park bench.
The next day, a woman called to sign up for a store tour. I asked how she was doing today—a question I’ve learn to ask with patient pause in this work. She lost half of her pension when retiring for health issues, so she practices gratitude, but struggles with logistics of getting-by. She was called into work for the same time as my upcoming nutrition class. She truly considered calling out of work just to attend a class about how to stretch a grocery budget.
We hear more about hunger in the news, but in terms of numbers. It’s not “the needy”; it’s our neighbors in need.
In these four years, I find the amazement of people who step into our warehouse never ceases–the scale of this work is often surprising. If you are able, I invite you to volunteer with Manna, even for just a day. These stories could belong to any of us.