Saturday, March 18, 2017

Food & Friends Joint Class Day: Building Community to Promote Health

Eating nutritious meals each day is essential for everyone to maintain a healthy body, especially those suffering from critical illnesses. On Monday, March 13, the University of Maryland (UMD) College Park Dietetic Interns joined interns from several other programs in the area for a joint class day at Food & Friends in NE, DC. We all worked together to prepare and package healthy meals for clients who require special meals because of their illness. It was a day filled with learning, collaborating, and volunteering to help those around the community who suffer from critical illnesses receive healthy food.

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The Food & Friends website states, “Food & Friends is the only home-visiting nutrition service that delivers hope by the meal -- specialized, fresh, delicious.” Food & Friends is a nonprofit that employs about 50 staff members and benefits from ~9,000 volunteers per year to “foster a community caring for men, women, and children living with HIV/AIDS, cancer, and other life-threatening illnesses by preparing and delivering specialized meals and groceries in conjunction with nutrition counseling.” On our day of volunteering, we were able to actively participate in the kitchen by expediting meals or helping to package groceries-to-go.

Additionally, on our joint class day we had the opportunity to meet two Registered Dietitians (RDs), Priscilla Dhas, Nutrition Services Manager, and Anna Kinard, Community Dietitian. They explained that the dietitians at Food & Friends provide personalized nutrition counseling, develop 11 specific meal plans for each diet need, perform nutrient analyses, instruct cooking classes, create educational handouts, ensure quality control, and participate on various committees.

Our class day at Food & Friends was great because we were able to collaborate with interns from other programs, actively participate in the preparation of food for the clients, and learn from several lectures given by RDs. Joint class days are nice because interns have the opportunity to see other interns, but today was extra fun because we actually got to work side by side with people we didn’t know. At the beginning of the day, everyone was assigned to one of two groups, which prevented us from sticking with our usual partners. The groups took turns volunteering in the kitchen and learning from the lectures. We were also provided a delicious lunch!

Prior to volunteering at Food & Friends, I didn’t know an organization like this existed. However, I do think organizations like Food & Friends are necessary, especially for those who need special diets and have serious nutrition needs or considerations due to their medical therapies! Moreover, this experience was very insightful as I learned that Food & Friends has no requirements for income.  It serves those with life threatening diseases, compromised nutritional status and a limited ability to prepare their own meals. A lot of people don't have a caretaker who can prepare and deliver meals everyday and this area is where Food & Friends really helps. Caretakers typically have to juggle their job, house, and family in addition to now helping their loved ones or in some cases their neighbor or friend go to appointments and receive adequate food. Food and Friends is making a tremendous difference in the lives of both those living with a serious illness and those who are taking care of the patient. Finally, this experience showed me another work option for RDs!

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